Skip to content

First Baptist Church - Palestine, TX

Christ is Enough…to Build Kingdom Relationships

At the end of each year, we tend to look back and reflect on the good and the bad from the year as a whole and we make plans for the future. What are we going to do differently in the year ahead? What are some good memories that we want to hang on to? What are some things we hope to never experience again?

As a pastor, I do the same thing in the church. I look back and I give thanks to God for all of the wonderful things He has blessed us with and revealed to us this year, as well as what we might do to better further the Kingdom in the coming year.

We have measurables in the church, such as attendance, giving, baptisms, new members, etc., and those are indicators to be sure. However, the success, as it were, of a church, and really, of our lives in general, should be measured against one command in Scripture…make disciples. How am I doing in making disciples? How am I leading others in making disciples? How is my church doing in making disciples and how can I be a better part of that?

I believe Scripture teaches us that this is best accomplished in “Building Kingdom Relationships”. In our text for today from Galatians 6, Paul gives us four areas of focus in regard to Building Kingdom Relationships.

Galatians 6:6-10,Let the one who is taught the word share all his good things with the teacher. Don’t be deceived: God is not mocked. For whatever a person sows he will also reap, because the one who sows to his flesh will reap destruction from the flesh, but the one who sows to the Spirit will reap eternal life from the Spirit. Let us not get tired of doing good, for we will reap at the proper time if we don’t give up. 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us work for the good of all, especially for those who belong to the household of faith.

In V6, Paul gives us the first area of focus in regard to Building Kingdom Relationships. We’ll call it DISCIPLESHIP. The picture here is of a student receiving good stuff from a teacher and then sharing those things with that teacher. For teachers, there is nothing more affirming than hearing about the learning that their students are doing. In the church, this seems best reflected in a one-on-one or small group discipleship. The question we should ask ourselves is, am I plugged into one-on-one or small group discipleship and am I intentionally building Kingdom relationships through discipleship?

In V7-8, Paul gives us the 2ndarea of focus in regard to Building Kingdom Relationships. We’ll call it CONSEQUENCES. For every action, there is a reaction. For every action, there are consequences. Consequences can be good or bad. If you eat a lot of junk, the consequence will likely be health issues. If you pour bad stuff in your mind, bad stuff will come out. The text tells us if we sow to the flesh, the results will be fleshly, and the results will be destruction. If we sow to the Spirit, the results will be Spirit and life. For example – if you aren’t being obedient to the Lord in giving to the church, how can you expect God to bless your finances? If you aren’t committed to making your marriage a priority, how can you expect God to bring joy in that relationship? We may not always like to admit it, but we all need accountability in our lives. Building Kingdom Relationships builds healthy accountability in our lives.

In V9, Paul gives us the 3rdarea of focus in regard to Building Kingdom Relationships. We’ll call it INVESTMENT. Do you ever get tired of doing good? Maybe you have become tired in working, parenting, even serving in your Church or community. Sometimes we get weary because we are working, not from a position of strength, but on fumes. We are not staying plugged in to the power source, the Word of God and prayer, and working in our own strength. Whatever is invested in us, we will be able to invest in others. If we don’t allow God’s Word to be invested in us, we are running on fumes. Paul says don’t give up on the good stuff. Don’t give up on serving God. Don’t give up on taking care of your family, but do it from a position of strength by staying invested.

In V10, Paul gives us the 4thand final area of focus in regard to Building Kingdom Relationships. We’ll call it FAMILY. The text says work for the good of all, but especially those who belong to the household of faith. It is speaking of the church, the family of faith. We must reach, teach, evangelize, serve, and share – but not at the expense of our own family. In the same way we must take care of our own households before taking care of others. If I am too busy meeting the needs of other people and neglecting my wife and family, I’m out of balance and treading on thin ice. My first Kingdom Relationshiop that needs building is my family, then my church. The church is our extended family. We are related by blood, by the blood of Christ.

Will you commit, along with me, to pray about going to the ‘next level’ in discipleship, in Building Kingdom Relationships, next year?

Tony Watson
Senior Pastor
First Baptist Church
Palestine, TX

Christ is Enough…to Restore the Fallen – Blog & Podcast

In the church, we strive to provide opportunities for those who want to grow spiritually and in fellowship. We have worship services, Bible studies, mission opportunities, fellowship events, and we encourage people to build relationships. We encourage the church to reach out to those who have been absent and to share the Gospel with those who don’t know Christ. There is another segment of people that I wonder how effective we are at reaching, or even how aware we are of their needs. I’m speaking about those who, in the words of Paul, have been “overtaken in any wrongdoing”. In other words, those who have fallen into a sinful or destructive pattern.

As we continue to work through Galatians, Paul moves from a focus on living by the Spirit and not by the flesh at the end of chapter 5 to a direct application of this in chapter 6. He speaks directly to the church and specifically to those who are the maturing believers in the church and makes them aware that ignoring those people are not an option.

Many times, we do not reach out to people who are struggling because we feel we don’t know enough, aren’t sure what to say or do, or they may have even hurt us and we don’t really want to reach out. According to Scripture, that is not an option for the church. Let us look at what Paul says about this in Galatians 6:1-5.

 Galatians 6:1-5, Brothers and sisters, if someone is overtaken in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual, restore such a person with a gentle spirit, watching out for yourselves so that you also won’t be tempted. Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone considers himself to be something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Let each person examine his own work, and then he can take pride in himself alone, and not compare himself with someone else. For each person will have to carry his own load.

What does it mean to be “overtaken in any wrongdoing”? Overtaken literally means “caught”, as in caught in the act of some discretion or being caught up in some pattern of destructive behavior. As we look at Paul’s instruction to the church as to how to react, it is imperative that we act prayerfully and carefully. Many people either do not act or react wrongly in these situations, which can do more damage than good. Paul gives three action words in the text which are command words to the church to respond to those who have stumbled along the way.

The first action word Paul gives to the church in reaching out to the fallen is RESTORE (verse 1)

The goal of any reaching out, of any effort to minister to the fallen should always be toward restoration and redemption, not pruning or condemnation. We see examples in Scripture, such as the woman taken in adultery that was brought to Jesus, where he exhibited grace, not condemnation, and her life was restored. Matthew 18 gives clear directives as to the process of handling a conflict and I believe the same process can apply here, but with even a greater emphasis on grace.

A word of caution. When someone is struggling, the last thing that will help them is for me to talk about it to someone else. The Bible calls that gossip and gossip, at the least, is unhelpful, and at the most, is hurtful and divisive. Your first response should be to pray, then pray some more, and then you should pray again. Then, as God directs, move toward restoration.

The next action word Paul gives to the church in reaching out to the fallen is CARRY (verse 2)

What did Jesus do with the burdens of others? He carried them. What did He do with my burdens? He carried them. I Peter 2:24 tells us that Jesus “bore our sins in his body on the tree”. Isaiah 53 tells us that He was wounded for our transgressions. Throughout the New Testament we see evidence of the committed Christian life is that we love God and love other people.

When we are invested in the burdens of others, it keeps us from looking down on others. When we are engaged in carrying the burdens of others, it creates community, and helps us to realize we all have struggles in this life. The fact is, burdens are a reality in this life. Whether it be physical illness, mental illness, financial crisis, addiction, family issues, or whatever it may be, Jesus told us in John 16:33, “You will have suffering in this world.”

Choosing not to get involved in helping carry the burdens of others can be a symbol of pride. Pride creates a heart that is anti-missional, anti-brotherly love and anti-Kingdom advance.

The final action word Paul gives to the church is EXAMINE (verse 4)

Paul tells us that we must examine ourselves, not in comparison to others (as we are all in need of grace), but in relation to the Lord. The Judaizers brought a philosophy to the Galatian believers which lends itself to comparing one’s spirituality to others. This can be an indicator of insecurity. Any boasting we do should be in the Lord and the blessings of the Lord. Jesus tells us in Matthew 12:36 that we will have to account for every careless word we speak. We also cannot lose sight of the fact that we are responsible for our own load – nobody else can father my kids, nobody else is to love my wife as a husband is to love his wife, nobody else can provide for my family…you get the idea.

Blaming our problems on others are just not helpful. Sometimes in dealing with someone who has stumbled you may hear some blame being thrown around, but that is where we must have understanding that we are to bear our own load.

Restoration, ultimately, is not the work of any man, but a work of the Holy Spirit. We are vessels used by the Holy Spirit, in this case, toward restoration. But remember, before you act (and we have been called to act), we must pray, then we must pray again, and next we should pray some more. God’s grace is sufficient to direct.

Tony Watson
Senior Pastor
First Baptist Church
Palestine, TX

Christ is Enough…to Equip us with His Spirit – Blog and Podcast

What does it mean to live by the Spirit? To walk by the Spirit? Does that mean that I’m waiting on some mystic power to come reveal itself to me and just go as the mystic spirit directs? Does it mean if my spirit doesn’t want to do something, I am not obligated to do it? Those may sound like ridiculous ideas, but there are likely some who would embrace those ideas, however unscriptural they are.

Paul spends the book of Galatians challenging the Galatian believers to follow the person of Christ rather than a list of rules. The idea is that in following Christ, He will equip you with the power of His Holy Spirit to live the best life. That is living by the Spirit.

In our passage for today, Paul contrasts living according to the Holy Spirit with living according to the flesh. It’s one or the other that has control. One leads to life and the other leads down a bad path.

Galatians 5:16-26,16 I say then, walk by the Spirit and you will certainly not carry out the desire of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is against the Spirit, and the Spirit desires what is against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you don’t do what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, moral impurity, promiscuity,20 idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, 21 envy,,drunkenness, carousing, and anything similar. I am warning you about these things—as I warned you before—that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. The law is not against such things. 24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

So how can we do this? How can we live by the Spirit? First of all, we must acknowledge that the Holy Spirit is sufficient. The Spirit is complete in all that He does and works best when He’s given full control. I believe we can see from this passage, three things the Holy Spirit is sufficient to accomplish.

The Holy Spirit is sufficient to keep us out of conflict. Flesh desires what is against the Spirit and Spirit desires what is against the flesh. They are in conflict, and to try and live in both worlds is frustrating. Reliance on the Holy Spirit means God has control. Reliance on the flesh means that I’m in control. Who do I trust more – God or myself?

Secondly, the Holy Spirit is sufficient to reveal the works of flesh. Paul gives quite a list here, covering sex, religion and relationships. In regard to sex, he says works of the flesh include sexual immorality, moral impurity, and promiscuity. In regard to religion, Paul challenges believers to avoid idolatry and sorcery. In regard to relationships, Paul says that works of the flesh include hatreds, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, and carousing. These are all opposed to the flesh.

Thirdly, the Holy Spirit is sufficient to equip us to bear fruit. The opposite of the works of flesh includes love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness gentleness and self-control. There is no law against any of these. Without the Spirit, we cannot remain faithful in these and with the Spirit, we naturally begin to bear these out. However, our motivation is not simply to bear fruit, because on our own we can get arrogant or begin to take credit for our faithfulness. It is the Spirit that equips us.

So, how do we walk in the Spirit?

First of all, we choose to follow the Spirit. Jesus said, “take up your cross daily and follow me”. It’s a daily choice to follow Christ, to be led by the Spirit. Consciously make that choice daily.

Secondly, we must deal with the obvious. If there are issues you struggle with that are in that list of works of flesh, take that as the Holy Spirit revealing that to you and deal with them right away. Don’t miss the full life in the Holy Spirit because of a personal conflict, habit or hang-up.

Thirdly, be honest about yourself. Don’t look at yourself as you see yourself, but through the lens of God’s Word. Don’t try to justify your behaviors and attitudes to the Lord. He knows not only your actions, but your heart. The more honest you get, the more you will be reliant on the Holy Spirit of God.

Finally, get to know Jesus. It sounds obvious, but don’t just pursue an obedience relationship to commands, pursue a true relationship with Christ. He is the Truth, He is the Light, He is the Way. Spend time with Him. Read His Word not just for knowledge but to get to know Him. Pray not only to give your list, but to get to know His heart and share yours.

Tony Watson
Senior Pastor
First Baptist Church
Palestine, TX

I Give Thanks to My God – Blog & Podcast

In Philippians 1, beginning in verse 3, Paul gives a greeting not unlike what he gives to the recipients of his other letters. He expresses his love and thankfulness for those people, but in that, he gives credit where credit is due. Let me read a little bit of this passage and see if you can see what I’m talking about. See if you can grasp who he is really thanking.

Philippians 1:3-7a, “I give thanks to my God for every remembrance of you, always praying with joy for all of you in my every prayer, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. I am sure of this, that he who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Indeed, it is right for me to think this way about all of you, because I have you in my heart, and you are all partners with me in grace…

It is clear that Paul understands who to thank for all of the blessings. In this case, the blessings that brought him together with the people of Philippi for partnership in the gospel. It is God who initiated it, God who, by the power of the Holy Spirit, drew Paul unto Himself and saved him. It is God who, by the power of the Holy Spirit, revealed himself to these Philippians and built a community of faith there. It is God who enabled them to do Kingdom work. It is because of the work of God that Paul can give thanks and have deep affection for the Philippians believers.

When I reflect back on my life, I am aware of the fact that nothing good has happened in my life apart from the hand of God. I have breath to breathe, grace to live each day, a family that loves me, friends, church…so many blessings.

But what if things weren’t going so well in my life? Would I be able to still give thanks to my God for blessings?

I heard a saying once that “It may not be well with my circumstances, but it is well with my soul”. A mistake we often make is in evaluating God based upon our circumstances. If things are going well, then praise the Lord. If things are tough, then I need thee, O I need thee. The truth is, God is so much bigger than our circumstances.

I was in a seminary class one time and in the prayer time before class began a young pastor shared that his wife was due to give birth any day, and the doctors had concluded that the child would very likely not survive. Another young pastor stood up and said that he and his wife had gone through a similar situation and that he wanted to share something. He said “If God gives you and your wife a healthy baby, then God is good. If He chooses not to give you a healthy baby, then God is still good.” That penetrated my heart and still resonates today. It’s true.

God is not good based upon what is happening in my life. God is good because He is. Because He is God. Because He IS good.

I have much to be thankful for. I have many people in my life that have been a tremendous blessing to me and I need to tell them how thankful I am for them. But Paul had it right. I need to tell them that I thank God for them. Paul said, “I thank my God for EVERY remembrance of you”. That is powerful.

Paul’s perspective is right. It is He who started the good work in me and it is He who WILL be faithful to complete it. I give thanks to my God, for He IS good, and He IS faithful.

Tony Watson
Senior Pastor
First Baptist Church
Palestine, TX

Christ is Enough…to Keep us Running Well – Blog and Podcast

A few years ago, I was serving as the announcer for a high school track meet. It’s something I have done a number of times and it’s always fun to get to see these students put all of their hard work on display as they compete not only against other competitors but also the clock and, in the case of field events, standards of distance for each event.

On this particular day, I began to hear talk early in the day about a particular young lady who would be racing in the 100-meter dash. She was widely recognized around the area as one of the better sprinters and it was my understanding that perhaps even a college scout or two or three might be in the stands to watch.

We took the break after the field events and as people began to come back into the press box, the talk began again. I found myself much more interested in that particular race than I thought I would be, because I thought “this girl must be something to see”.

As we approached the 100-meter dash, the stands were the fullest they had been all day. The press box had more people than it should have had. You could feel the excitement in the air. I made the last call for participants in this race and announced the lane assignments. I leaned out of the press box to get the best view of this as I looked down to see the runners doing their final stretches and getting into the starting blocks.

The starter called the runners to their marks. The runners put their hands on the line and got into their sprinter’s stance. The starter’s arms went up, he called “SET” and he fired the gun. The runners took off. This girl was in lane two. The runner in lane one, perhaps feeling the anticipation of running against this top athlete, slipped a little bit and her momentum had her lean into the runner everyone had their eye on, knocking her out of her lane and ruining her race. She tried to get it back, but there was no use. We thought her chance had passed. There was great disappointment all around.

After a consultation with the race officials and a pleading from her coach, the officials agreed to let her run in the next heat, since they all agreed she had done nothing wrong. So, the anticipation starts all over again. The runners take their marks. The starter yells “SET”, and then, it happened. This girl, feeling all of the eyes of everyone on her and wanting to get out ahead of her competition, she springs out of her stance just before the starters gun fired and she’s called for a false start. She’s disqualified. After all of the anticipation, she didn’t even get to run the race, because she lost her focus.

Paul tells the Galatians in Chapter 5… “You were running well. Who prevented you from being persuaded regarding the truth?” The Galatian church had lost their focus and had allowed some false teaching to come into the church and to disrupt them from running well.

Has that ever happened to you? Were you running well in your Christian walk at some point…until you weren’t?

Paul reveals 4 potential hindrances to running well. See if you can identify with any of these.

The first potential hindrance is “Leaving the leaven”. Verse 9 warns that “A little leaven leavens the whole batch of dough”. It only takes a small bit of yeast to make an entire loaf of bread rise. It only takes a small entrance of sin in our lives, left unattended, to spread throughout our heart and hinder our walk with Christ. We have to deal with the leaven, remove it, walk away from it, and not make the choice to allow it back into our lives. We cannot blame losing our joy, getting distracted in the race, or faltering on someone else. Ultimately, we make those choices. Let’s deal with the leaven and get back in the race.

The second potential hindrance is “Curtailing the cross”. In verse 11, Paul apparently is being accused of preaching circumcision, which abolishes the need for the cross. Paul was so disturbed by this that he wishes that those who were preaching circumcision would go ahead and have themselves castrated, take it to the next level. We can never lose sight of the fact that every blessing we have is made possible because of the cross. We must make much of the cross.

The third potential hindrance is “Freeing the freedom”. While it’s true that we are totally free in Christ, Paul cautions in verse 13 that using our freedom to fulfill the desires of the flesh is counter-productive and makes salvation about ourselves. Everything is lawful, but not everything is beneficial. Let us not use our grace as an excuse to satisfy the desires of the flesh.

The final potential hindrance is “Neglecting your neighbor”. We are told in verse 14 to “Love your neighbor as yourself”. We don’t have any difficulty in looking out for our own interests, providing for ourselves, and seeking to have all of our needs met. Paul states the same thing that the Apostle John states in I John, that the evidence that we are in the faith is that we love God and we love others. We should take the same interest in helping provide the needs of others. Praying for one another, bearing with one another, encouraging one another, and counting others more significant than ourselves are all evidences of not neglecting our neighbors.

Is there some leaven in your life that is taking over too much space? Have you lost your focus of Kingdom things?

Have you taken the freedom and grace of Christ for granted and fulfilled the desires of the flesh? Are you investing love in others? The race is far from over, for God gives us fresh starts when we need them. Get back in the race and you’ll see that the things you have been through will help make your faith deeper and stronger than ever.

Tony Watson
Senior Pastor
First Baptist Church
Palestine, TX

Christ Is Enough…to Be Our True Hope – Blog and Podcast

Do you ever get concerned that too often we do not place our emphasis on the right things? That we major on the minors? You’ve heard of this, or maybe you’ve been a part of a church that got worked up about carpet color, décor, temperature, or something else that had no eternal consequence, but was a big deal to a group of people. I was part of a church one time that had a town hall-type meeting regarding the purchase of an ice machine. Another time, in another church, a lady told me that the color of the bulletin was offensive. Hey it was a purple color – isn’t that the color of royalty?

We have people in our neighborhoods that are living and dying without Christ, our living hope, this is the major that should be our focus. We have believers, in the church, who need to be discipled to a deeper walk, so they too can re-produce disciples.

In Galatians, the Judaizers were majoring on the minors. They were hung up on things like circumcision and ceremony and lost sight of True Hope. Paul wasn’t saying circumcision was bad, but belief that it would save you was simply not true.  There are no saving rituals, only a saving relationship.

For example, if I run a red light and I get pulled over, telling the officer how many laws I’ve kept or how many good things I’ve done won’t help. I still have to answer for my offense and pay the price. The Word tells me if I’m seeking to be justified by the law, if I break one law, it is as if I have broken all of them. If I put my hope in Christ, He already paid the price.

Galatians 5:1-6,For freedom, Christ set us free. Stand firm then and don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery. Take note! I, Paul, am telling you that if you get yourselves circumcised, Christ will not benefit you at all. Again I testify to every man who gets himself circumcised that he is obligated to do the entire law. You who are trying to be justified by the law are alienated from Christ; you have fallen from grace. For we eagerly await through the Spirit, by faith, the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision accomplishes anything; what matters is faith working through love.

Let’s look at three realities that teach us about the True Hope, this Hope of Righteousness

  1. For freedom, Christ has set us free– Why did Christ set us free? The Word says it was FOR freedom that He set me free. If I’m seeking to be justified by my works, aren’t I really serving God out of a fear that I won’t measure up? Is there any joy in serving God out of fear? Paul equates the Judaizers’ efforts at salvation to submitting to a yoke of slavery. In a yoke – someone else has control over your life without your involvement. You are bound to whoever has control over you. Freedom does not mean abandonment of the law, but I choose to use my freedom to honor Christ. My freedom was purchased with a price – by One who loved me before I was born and has a plan for my life. In Christ, I am truly free. The devil can tempt me, life can test me, but my soul’s hope is secure in Christ.
  2. Justification by law is alienation from Christ– Paul is not saying you can lose your salvation if you go back to seeking to be justified by works or the law. Actually, if you could lose it that way, you never really had it to begin with. Justification by law says that you view Christ as insufficient, that grace is not good enough. As Christ becomes more real in my life, I find that I want to honor Him more, not be alienated from him. The word for alienated here means, “to be separated”. If I’m seeking to be justified by the law or works, I’m actually working against what I believe I’m trying to do. I’ve found in life that we often are running FROM something or running TO something. Justification by law is running FROM Christ, running FROM bad behaviors, and it involves looking over my shoulder in fear, to see if anyone is watching. Justification in Christ is running TO Christ, always looking forward, eyes on the prize, the Hope.
  3. We eagerly await the hope of righteousness– Where is our hope found? Our hope is found in the cross, through the Spirit. The cross is an unusual symbol of hope, for it means that someone was crucified on that cross, but it’s in the cross that I find freedom, in the cross that I find hope. The cross is where I can leave my sin. It’s in the cross that I can rise up in victory, that I can have Christ’s righteousness imputed to me. It’s in the cross that my mind, my heart, my words and my actions can be led by the Holy Spirit. The cross is my only hope , for the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life IN Christ Jesus.

Verse 5 of our text says, “For we eagerly await through the Spirit, by faith, the hope of righteousness”. It’s not circumcision or adherence to any law that brings freedom, but it is the cross that purchased my freedom.

  • Colossians 1:18, “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but it is the power of God to us who are being saved.”
  • Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
  • Colossians 2:14, “He erased the certificate of debt, with its obligations, that was against us and opposed to us, and has taken it away by nailing it to the cross.”

Church, it’s time to put aside all of our evaluations, time to take stock of all of our involvements and focus on what brings hope. Let us look at our families through the lens of the cross – don’t worry about making everybody happy but making disciples. Let us look at our church through the lens of the cross – may we never be guilty of majoring on minors. Let’s keep the main thing as the main thing. Let us look at our neighborhood through the lens of the cross – who around me doesn’t know the hope of righteousness? Let us look at our state, our country, our world, through the lens of the cross, the hope of righteousness.

Are you willing to make a commitment to join me today in making the cross a priority? You’ll find freedom if you do.

Tony Watson
Senior Pastor
First Baptist Church
Palestine, TX

Christ is Enough…to Transform the Inner Man (Blog & Podcast)

Recently I heard the testimony once again of Russ Taff. For those who don’t know, Russ Taff has been a popular singer in Christian music for nearly 40 years. He joined the Imperials in the early 1980’s, when they were at the top of the Christian music world. He’s won many awards as a soloist and is also a former member of the Gaither Vocal Band. But, as much as it has it has appeared that Russ had it all together on the outside, he would tell you a different story.

Russ Taff grew up the son of a Pentecostal preacher, but his home was far from perfect. His parents continually told him that he and his brothers would never amount to much and that they weren’t worth anything. As it turns out, Russ’s dad struggled with his own sense of worth and couldn’t deal with the guilt of trying to “measure up” to the Lord. The way he dealt with his guilt was to try and forget about it by turning to alcohol. Russ said he was always in love with Jesus but was always afraid of him. However, he had musical talent and wanted to sing for the Lord, so he began to do that and had good success. However, the pain never really went away. One night he turned to alcohol and discovered the pain was gone for a few hours. You can guess how the story developed. He felt he was living a double-life and ended up depending on alcohol to manage life.

He will tell you that it could have been avoided if he had known the grace of God earlier in life. The God he was taught about was a God who rewards obedience and punishes disobedience.

This is much the same principle as Paul was dealing with in Galatians with the Judaizers trying to convince the new Galatian believers that their freedom was a lie and that they needed to go back to the old ways of being justified by obedience to the law. Just as Russ Taff found out – we can never be good enough, do enough, or earn enough.

Galatians 4:28-31, 28 Now you too, brothers and sisters, like Isaac, are children of promise. 29 But just as then the child born as a result of the flesh persecuted the one born as a result of the Spirit, so also now. 30 But what does the Scripture say? “Drive out the slave and her son, for the son of the slave will never be a coheir with the son of the free woman.” 31 Therefore, brothers and sisters, we are not children of a slave but of the free woman.

Paul uses the story of Abraham and Sarah from Genesis to give a Biblical picture of justification by the law, or slavery, versus grace. Abraham was called by God at age 75 to “go” to a land he would show him, and that he would have many descendants. Up to this point, he and Sarah had been married many years and were unable to have children, which many interpreted as a sign of a curse. Ten years later, Abraham is 85 and there is no child yet. Sarah becomes impatient and offers her maidservant Hagar to Abraham to give him a male heir. This is legal, but not in the will of God. Hagar gives birth to Ishmael and Sarah grows jealous. Jealous to the point that Abraham sends Hagar and Ishmael away, but God intervenes and brings them back. Twenty-four years after the initial call, at age 99, Abraham receives God’s revelation again. He will have a son, and he should be named Isaac. God later appears to Sarah and reveals this to her. Sarah laughs, but Isaac is born. Oh, by the way, Isaac means “laughter”. When Isaac turned 3, it was time for his weaning ceremony. Ishmael is 17 by this time and he comes and mocks Isaac and causes a scene. Once again, Abraham feels it necessary to send Hagar and Ishmael on their way.

You see the child that was born through the flesh kept causing issues because they took the issue into their own hands and couldn’t fix the issues. The child of promise, Isaac, was used by God to father Jacob, who was later re-named Israel. We have Ishmael – born through flesh and Isaac – born through promise. We have Hagar, who was a slave woman and Sarah, who was a free woman. We have Hagar and Ishmael, representing slavery and Sarah and Isaac, representing freedom. We have Ishmael who was persecuting and Isaac who was persecuted. We have earthly Jerusalem, representing the world, and slavery and the Heavenly Jerusalem representing freedom. What we have is a wonderful picture of the curse of trying to be justified by the law and the blessings of the grace of God.

The Judaizers were trying to demonstrate their obedience through external means, through works, but the what God is looking for is a willing vessel so that He can transform the inner man, which then will affect the behaviors.

Here are 3 Truths from Abraham and Sarah about Transforming the Inner Man

  • The old nature cannot be controlled by the law– Only the Holy Spirit can control strongholds. We cannot.
    • Romans 6:6, “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be rendered powerless so that we may no longer be enslaved to sin,”
  • Slavery should be identified and cast out– Whatever troubles you, walk away from it, change your circumstances.
    • 5:1, “For freedom, Christ set us free. Stand firm then and don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery.”
  • Transformation brings freedom to the inner man– It’s the inner man that condemns us, not the outer man.
    • 2 Corinthians 4:16, “Therefore we do not give up. Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day.”

Russ Taff grew up believing that none of us could ever be good enough, and he’s right, except for grace. Grace transforms, grace heals, grace restores, grace keeps, and grace never let’s go. Let grace transform your inner man today and leave the results to God.

Tony Watson
Senior Pastor
First Baptist Church
Palestine, TX