Wrong vs. Right

Dr. Ron J. Bigalke

Roy “Wrong Way” Riegels played football for the University of California from 1927 to 1929. He was the all-American center and captain-elect for the Golden Bears, yet his “wrong way” run in the 1929 Rose Bowl against Georgia Tech is often considered the worst blunder in the history of college football. The game was scoreless early in the second quarter when Georgia Tech had possession on their 20-yard line. Riegels recovered a fumble by Yellow Jackets’ running back Jack “Stumpy” Thomason. He took a step toward the Tech goal line, and then got bumped, spun around, and seeing a pair of goal posts headed for them. Unfortunately, it was the wrong end zone!

Known for his speed, quarterback Benny Lom chased his confused teammate half the distance of the field, shouting at the top of his lungs for him to stop. Lom eventually caught Riegels and got him turned in the correct direction, but Tech players tackled him immediately at the 1-yard line. The Bears decided to punt rather than risk a play so close to their end zone, but Tech’s Vance Maree blocked the punt, resulting in a safety for the Yellow Jackets and a 2-0 lead. California eventually scored a touchdown and kicked an extra point, but Georgia Tech added six more points, and won their second national championship by a final score of 8-7.

Douglas “Wrong Way” Corrigan was an American aviator, who earned his nickname for a flight from New York to Ireland. He piloted a transcontinental flight from California to New York; and, immediately thereafter, filed plans for a transatlantic flight. Aviation authorities concluded that his strategy was suicide, and his application was promptly denied. Corrigan was approved for a return flight to the West Coast.

While his plane departed west, it suddenly made a 180-degree turn and left onlookers puzzled as he vanished into the clouds. Twenty-eight hours later, Corrigan landed his plane in Dublin, Ireland. He claimed to have lost direction in the clouds and that his compass malfunctioned. Authorities did not believe there was any navigational error, viewing the mistake as deliberate. Nevertheless, “Wrong Way” Corrigan was a national celebrity.

In contrast to Riegels’ truly unintentional error, Corrigan appears to have made his decision purposefully. Peter’s error, as detailed in Galatians 2, was similar to that of Riegel. Peter was temporarily disoriented, and acquiesced to the Judaizers. The error of the Judaizers was not an accident, and in that sense was similar to Corrigan’s because it was deliberate.

The Judaizers were intentionally subverting the gospel of grace by proclaiming a works-based message. Combining law with the gospel was a distortion of truth. True believers may become momentarily disoriented in their doctrine and practice (like Peter), and thus we do well to examine ourselves to be certain that our spiritual experience is valid (2 Cor 13:5).

(Gal 3:1-14)
Galatians 3 begins with an urgent appeal to return to the simplicity of the gospel. The plea takes the form of a series of six arguments to prove that salvation (justification) by faith is superior to the law. The first verse considers why the faith of a true believer could falter: “You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified?” The address is direct and stern, for it is as if the believers had fallen under a bewitching, deceptive spell that could only be attributed to the influence of demonic powers.

Do you know that the Holy Spirit abides within you (cf. Rom 8:9)? If you began by receiving the Spirit (which is the only authentic foundation), it would be foolish to seek “being perfected by the flesh” (Gal 3:2-3). A works-based message discounts the saving (justifying) and sanctifying work that the Holy Spirit accomplishes in the life of believers (v. 4). The Holy Spirit enters the believer’s life as a result of grace, not the law (v. 5).

Authentic life transformation is the work of the Holy Spirit, who uses the Word of God to effect that change. Neither you nor I have ever changed anyone (at least for their good); it is always the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God. The Spirit works in the context of God’s Word; therefore, it is nothing less than stupidity to displace oneself from that context to another.

The opponents of God’s Word cited Moses, the giver of the law, as their authority (or, at least, argued that Abraham was saved on the basis of meritorious works). Yet the Bible reveals that Abraham, the father of the Jewish race (Gen 12—24), was accepted by God on the basis of his faith in the Lord’s promise (Gal 3:6-14). There are only two possible ways of being accepted by God: 1) keeping the law perfectly (v. 12), which is impossible (v. 10; James 2:10); or, 2) exercising faith (Gal 2:11). Redemption is “through faith,” so that the promise of the Holy Spirit is given to all who believe (v. 14).

(Gal 3:15-29)
The Judaizers argued that the law was given subsequent to the time of Abraham, and thus the law had greater priority over grace (salvation by grace through faith alone). In response, the Bible provides an example from human relationships: when an agreement is ratified, “no one sets it aside or adds conditions to it” (v. 15). God’s promise of salvation through faith to Abraham was a binding contract, and nothing (not even the law) could set it aside or add conditions to it.

God’s covenant was a promise made to Abraham and his seed (v. 16). The conveyer of God’s blessing (cf. Matt 1:1) is Christ Jesus, the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham. Faith is the permanent means for receiving salvation. The inheritance (i.e. justification by grace through faith) is an unconditional gift to all who have believed in Jesus (Gal 3:17-18).

The law was not given to save anyone; rather, “it was added because of transgressions” (v. 19). God wanted to make His will known, and when His commands were not fulfilled—either by acts of commission or omission—then everyone would know they had sinned (transgressed). (A “transgressor” [Gk. parabat¯es] typically refers to the transgression of the Mosaic law, and always some explicit law. See, for instance, James 2:9-11.) Whereas the law required mediation (Gal 3:19), God’s promise to Abraham was dependent only upon the commitment of God, who “is only one” (v. 20). Therefore, the promise is superior.

The law is certainly not “contrary to the promises of God” (v. 21), for it was never intended to impart life and acceptance before God. Its purpose was to reveal that everyone is a prisoner “under sin” (v. 22), and that condemnation produced a need to be forgiven and released from the law’s penalty. Prior to Christ, all humanity was “kept in custody under the law” (v. 23). The law was given as a “tutor” to identify sin and to demonstrate the reality of God’s judgment. Humanity’s inability to obey the law perfectly (and thereby earn God’s approval) necessitates salvation by grace “through faith in Christ Jesus” (vv. 23-26).

The good news of God’s grace is truly amazing. Those who have received His grace certainly can regard even routine conversation and communication as opportunities to share the good news. Scripture also reminds everyone: “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Prov 14:12). A false gospel prohibits you from salvation and membership in the family of God, wherein all believers are united “through faith in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:26-29).

Grace and peace summarize the gospel of salvation, which is through faith in Jesus (Gal 1:3). Grace is God’s unmerited favor, and is the basis for salvation (cf. Eph 2:8-9). Peace represents a fullness of life, which is the characteristic experience of those who are serving Christ faithfully. One cannot serve faithfully without the grace that God alone can grant.

Grace not only saves one from the penalty of sin, but also delivers the believer in Christ from the power of sin. Jesus “gave Himself” for sinners so that “He might rescue” them “from this present evil age” (Gal 1:4). Christ giving His life corresponds with His desire to grant peace to His followers, and to cause them to avail themselves of the grace that He provides.

“Forevermore” will not be long enough to praise God for the grace that saves the believer from the penalty and power of sin (Gal 1:5). The gospel is more than a message to proclaim; it is a dynamic reality to experience (vv. 1-5). “It is the power of God for salvation” (Rom 1:16), which brings freedom. Christ died to provide “rescue” (Gal 1:4). When you trust Jesus Christ, you become free, and the fetters of sin and legalistic religion are broken.

Placement into the body of Christ not only unites all believers, but also removes the old clothes of the law and replaces them with Christ’s new robes of righteousness (Gal 3:27; 2 Cor 5:21; Eph 4:23-24). Christ Jesus removes the barriers that divide people (Gal 3:28), meaning there is no inferiority or superiority for those who “belong to Christ” (v. 29). Grace appropriated through faith makes believers mature (v. 26). Allow your imperfections and needs to humble you before God, and then seek His grace as the “right way” to fulfill the Lord’s calling.

What tragedy if our lives are not based upon God-given goals: what seems to be so important now perishes in light of eternity. The worst bondage you can experience is living solely for yourself, and thereby yielding to the desires of the old nature (Rom 6). The message of God’s grace—through faith in Christ Jesus—is true because it came directly from God. It has the power to dramatically change your life.

Midnight Call - 05/2018

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