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Liberty Through Weakness

The setting is a synagogue in a place called Antioch in Pisidia. Paul and Barnabas are on what many call “Paul’s First Missionary Journey”. They have been invited to speak and Paul has stood up and is delivering a speech. He has just shown that Jesus comes through the lineage of King David. He’s about to reveal

“Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through this Man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins; and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses.” (Acts 13:38-39)

This must be shocking for the Jews present to hear because they highly revered the Law, but it is pretty good news. Do you know why? It’s because of what it means. This system, “the law of Moses”, which reflected the culture of the fallen world that satan had constructed after he was cast down to it, had a fatal flaw that God knew about when He instituted it. He did this to teach us about our limitations. Do you know what the flaw was? It was that the object of the law is perfect human performance. Who, besides Jesus, can do that? No one.

“…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” (Romans 3:23)

The devil knows this, so he built a culture for we who were born into the “prison camp of sin” that was based on tempting us to use our actions to make us good enough. We can’t be perfect in our actions. It's impossible. That was the fatal flaw of the law of Moses. It depended on perfect human performance.

That’s why God battled satan by giving Moses the Law – to expose the impossibility of living the “perform to become righteous” system the devil has taught us. He knew that He would, in Christ, fulfill the Law for us all and replace it with a different way to live – one that would bring us life and not the death that the law of sin brought to us.

“For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” (Romans 10:4)

So, when Paul says this in Acts 13:38: “by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses...”, he is saying that by Jesus everyone is justified from all things because we people cannot perform perfectly enough to satisfy the law of Moses, which demanded human perfection. Jesus, though, IS perfect. HE (and only He) can satisfy that requirement and, thankfully, He does that on our behalf.

“For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.” (Romans 5:6-9)

We were, spiritually, as Paul said to the Roman Christians, “without strength”; we could not justify ourselves through perfect performance. So, Jesus did that for us.

Can you see why Jesus is still resisted by the enemies of spiritual life? He truly is our only hope.

“Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, by the commandment of God our Savior and the Lord Jesus Christ, our hope…” (1 Timothy 1:1)

“Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through this Man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins; and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses.” (Acts 13:38-39)

Paul said a mouthful, eh? Those two sentences are FILLED with spiritual truth that is so impactful. Next, he gives a warning:

“Beware therefore, lest what has been spoken in the prophets come upon you: ‘Behold, you despisers, marvel and perish! For I work a work in your days, a work which you will by no means believe, though one were to declare it to you.’” (Acts 13:40-41)

You know, this warning still applies to people who “by no means believe”. God is STILL at work today and people still choose to not believe those who speak of that saving work to them. The battle is real.

Paul was quoting to them from Habakkuk. It was given to the Kingdom of Judah just before it was exiled to Babylon so that the people would know what was happening to them and why. It is VERY important that we understand the connection between our sin and the harsh things that come to us because of our sin. Otherwise, how can we repent?

“Look among the nations and watch; be utterly astounded! For I will work a work in your days which you would not believe, though it were told you.” (Habakkuk 1:5)

In this warning is a truth: some people will hear the Word and choose to not believe it (which means to actively entrust oneself to it); in other words they will refuse to give themselves to the Lord. In Acts 13:41 Paul refers to them as “despisers”, people who will have contempt for the Word. He tells them to “marvel and perish”. This means to “admire...and then vanish away and be rendered unapparent”.


All through history “famous” people and “important” people have risen up and mocked God and the Word of God. Then they go away; they “perish” and are rendered unapparent. This is something for us to remember whenever we hear a famous person mocking God. Eventually, they will perish permanently, unless they receive Jesus as their Lord. They are famous and important in the eyes of other people for such a short while and are, at best, very temporary irritants to the people of God.

“Beware therefore, lest what has been spoken in the prophets come upon you: ‘Behold, you despisers, marvel and perish! For I work a work in your days, a work which you will by no means believe, though one were to declare it to you.’” (Acts 13:40-41)

This is how Paul ended his sermon in that synagogue. It was not a classic three-point sermon – I guess he didn’t go to seminary. Yet, we can see the fruit:

“So when the Jews went out of the synagogue, the Gentiles begged that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath.” (Acts 13:42)

As they left, Paul and Barnabas were invited back to speak the following Sabbath.

The word “begged” is translated from the Greek word “parakaleo”, which means to “draw near”. It also means to bring comfort and is the word used by Jesus to describe the Holy Spirit as the “Comforter” (“Helper” in some versions) in John 14:26.

When Luke says that the “Gentiles begged that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath” it means that they drew near and begged him to preach the Gospel again the next Saturday. The lost don’t need entertainment, door prizes, cute marketing schemes and all the other worldly things so many use to draw them to organizations.

They need Jesus and the Gospel.

“And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:1-2)

(Allowing Himself to be crucified was a demonstration of weakness on His part.)

“I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:3-5)

Paul said that he specifically and mindfully wanted to focus on only two things: “Jesus Christ and Him crucified”.

We need to always keep in mind that the altar call, in which people pray to receive Jesus, is not the end of the story; for each new believer it is just the beginning of a new life and lifestyle. The so-called “Great Commission” COMMANDS us to “make disciples”. As we move along in our lives, God wants us to leave Christians in our wakes, all of whom function in obedience to Him and not as a fan base for some human spiritual wingding(s).

As Paul put it in 1 Corinthians 2:5, this is so their “faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God”.

The systems of the world exert tremendous pressure on us continually using fear of man to inspire us to perform perfectly or to appear as if we do. Satan thinks he rules here and, to be true, we were born into a realm in which he has ruled in many ways since Adam fell in the Garden. Our NATURAL tendency, even as Christians…even as Christian LEADERS…is to try to build Christian organizations “to the glory of God.”

God does not need these. He is certain He is enough.

(If only we would receive that truth and live it!)

The people of Christ don’t need to be wowed with spectacles - ESPECIALLY when they are being evangelized and introduced to Jesus. They just need to be led to Him so that after they are born again Jesus is Who they hang out with and depend upon. People will fail them.

Jesus never will.

“Now when the congregation had broken up, many of the Jews and devout proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God.” (Acts 13:43)

Note that when thronged by these people, Paul and Barnabas did not seek to lift themselves up...or to establish themselves...or an organization or any sub-group of Christianity. Instead, they simply speak to them and what is said is summarized by Luke as persuading them to “continue in the grace of God”.

This is interesting because, while some scholars think it means they should continue in the direction in which they are headed, it seems to mean that they had received Jesus as Lord. Why else would they be encouraged to “continue” in the grace of God? There is no reason because without salvation we aren’t “in” the grace of God.

The word “continue” means to “remain in, to abide in, to persevere in” and the term “to abide in”, further, means to actively live it. What were they to abide in? “The grace of God”. This stands in contrast to the “law of Moses” which was what they were trusting in prior to being born again. It represents remaining in “the graciousness of God in which Jesus cleanses and justifies us” as opposed to remaining in bondage to works (the basis of keeping the Law) in which we often seek to cleanse and justify ourselves. Can you see the obvious contrast?

What Luke wrote here in this simple sentence is for us as well. Our flesh wants to do for ourselves; meanwhile, the Spirit wants to grace us.

So many of us give up because it is hard to try to replace God when we aren’t wise, sovereign, all-powerful, omnipresent like He is.

Many of us seek help by trying to be propped up or seek to help others by propping someone else up when we are all exhausted from trying to be something only an all-powerful Being can be. We see it

as ministry. We see it as loving others.

I wonder if it is more loving for someone walking after the flesh to be allowed to fall over…to be be allowed to fail to be all-powerful - so as to realize the folly of that sooner than later, and, therefore, to turn to the Lord for His strength, power, might, wisdom, etc.

God is love and HE lets us fail SO THAT we can cry out to Him. This is a loving thing for Him to do for us.

Why can’t we help the people to whom we minister in a different way? Why can’t we minister the reality of helplessness (outside of Jesus) to them?

When we finally receive the FACT that outside of Jesus we can do nothing THEN we can receive Him to do through us and in us. Many times, I’ve heard people say something like, “It’s as if I am too weak to do it!” and they say this like it’s a bad thing. I agree with them that they are too weak, as mere humans, to do it; I disagree that realizing that is a bad thing.

In Christ, however, we can do all things.

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13 - NKJV)

I think that verse would be more accurately translated this way:

“I can do all things through Christ who IS MY STRENGTH.” (Philippians 4:13)

Paul came to understand this truth.

“Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10)

It would be good for us to receive, confess, and live this truth voluntarily and not to have to experience lots of “infirmities, reproaches, needs, persecutions, distresses” only to come to the same conclusion in time anyway. The ministry of weakness (outside of Christ) is a largely neglected ministry in the Body of Christ because it’s not popular, it’s not fun, and it does not draw crowds. In short, it’s not good marketing and is not good for building an earthly organization.

However, it DOES help build followers of Jesus which is, after all, the point of making disciples (the Great Commission.) This is also a highly neglected ministry in the Body of Christ because its so personal, time consuming, emotionally costly, often not fun and is best done one-on-one in a church culture in which dealing with people in large groups seems to be more cost effective.

Let’s choose to disciple others and be discipled. Disciples do not happen; they are MADE (Matthew 28:19). This takes some reading, study and sacrifice since the Church has practically discarded it over the centuries and can’t, generally speaking, be used as an example of a disciple making entity.

Let’s seek Biblical discipleship AND practice it. In discipleship we will truly come to know one another. Inevitably, we will see one another’s weakness. When this happens, we are presented with excellent opportunities to encourage one another to embrace our limitations and weaknesses and do as Paul said, “take pleasure” in them, knowing that this is the first step in harvesting the strength of Christ in and through us.

It is in this way that we can experience liberty through our weakness and love our neighbors by helping them do so as well.

May we all get to routinely taste the strength of Christ and be free.

“It was for freedom that Christ set us free…” (Galatians 5:1a - NASB)

Pastor Mike McInerney

Mike McInerney Ministries, Inc.

Decatur, TX

© November 19, 2019

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