Faith That Works In It's Rest - Part One
Scripture: Galatians 5:2–12
Faith That Works In It's Rest-Part OneGalatians 5:2-12
Sunday, August 5, 2012
Pastor Randy Smith
We have spent several months in the Apostle Paul's letter to the Galatians. How well have you been listening? Using the top of your sermon notes, write one sentence that you feel best summarizes the theme of the letter.
This week I sampled several Bible reference books and here is how some authors would have answered that question.
- "The Magna Charta of spiritual emancipation" (unknown).
- "Neither Gentiles nor Jews [can] be delivered from their sins by self-effort" (Tenny).
- "Christian liberty from any doctrine of salvation that requires human effort in addition to divine grace" (Gundry).
- "The great charter of Christian freedom" (Eerdmans).
- "Justification by faith apart from the works of the Law" (Wilkinson).
- "Living out all the implications of salvation through the cross" (Carson).
- "The Christian's spiritual freedom [in] his deliverance by Christ from the bondage of sin and religious legalism" (MacArthur).
All of these men are basically saying the same thing: Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone leading to spiritual freedom.
We have witnessed this theme hammered home again and again. The message that saves us from our sin and reconciles us to God is one of divine grace from beginning to end. Regardless of what all world religions teach and even including many sects professing to be Christian, there is nothing we can do to achieve God's favor. All humans fall short of God's standard and even our best efforts are still tainted with sin. God is a holy God and He is offended when hell-bent, self-reliant, self-sufficient sinners think they can somehow achieve the righteousness He expects and earn His acceptance based on their own efforts.
On the other hand, God is pleased when we confess we are guilty as charged and then cast ourselves in His loving arms to achieve for us what we cannot achieve by ourselves. When Jesus went to the cross, He took our sins upon Himself and paid the full penalty for our sins becoming, as Paul says in 3:13, "a curse for us." And from the beginning, we receive this forgiveness simply by our faith in Christ. Despite all the stuff we have heard from humans about all the stuff we need to do to go to heaven, can we listen to and apply the words of Scripture from 2:16? "A man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified."
There are many things people do, or don't do, that they falsely believe will merit their salvation. Back when this letter was written the pressure put on the Galatian church from the false teachers was that they needed to fulfill the Jewish Old Testament to supplement the work of Christ - circumcision was one of them. Their motto went something like this: "Jesus is good, but in order to be saved you must also be circumcised" (cf. Ac. 15:1). And the young converts that Paul led to the Lord were falling for it!
So that is why Paul says in verses 2-3, "Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you. And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law."
Please understand Paul's often misunderstood words. Neither he nor God has any problem if you choose, for example, to circumcise your new son (cf. Gal. 6:15). There are many reasons why you may wish to pursue this operation and all of them are biblically permissible. But the moment you pursue circumcision (or anything else!) as a means to obtain God's favor for your salvation, as if you need to add to the work of Christ, Paul says, "Christ will be of no benefit to you."
Do you see the irony? In their effort to do more religious stuff to apparently please God, was the more they pushed God away and nullified the work of Christ in their own lives. I like to put it this way, Christ plus anything equals nothing! MacArthur in his commentary said, "A supplemented Christ is a supplanted Christ" (Galatians, p. 134).
There are only two options for salvation. Either Jesus is permitted to do it all (the grace road) or you attempt to do it all (the works road). And if you choose the latter road Paul argues Christ is of no benefit (verse 2) and you are then under obligation to go all the way and keep the rest of the entire law as well (verse 3; 3:12; Jas. 2:10). There is no middle road. There is no other option. It is either all of faith and grace and Christ, which will win every time bringing salvation, freedom and assurance or all of law and works and self, which will lose every time bringing damnation, bondage and condemnation. Which one have you chosen?
The Galatian churches were very close in choosing the latter option and that is why Paul said in verse 4, "You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace."
A good example of this would be the story of the Prodigal Son (Lk. 15:11-32). You know how it goes. A father has two sons and one of them takes his share of the father's estate and wastes it on so-called "loose living." He returned with not a penny in his hand, bearing the shame he brought upon himself and his father. Yet he was repentant and knew all he could ask for was grace and mercy. And that is how the father complies: "So [the son] got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' But the father said to his slaves, 'Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.' And they began to celebrate" (Lk. 15:20-24). Jesus taught this to represent the Gospel of grace.
Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to the cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.
(Toplady, Rock of Ages)
The response of his older brother on the other hand represents the false gospel of works. He was angry with his father. He felt slighted because of all he had done. He was the real prodigal son. He was not satisfied with grace and boasted in his righteousness just like the Galatian legalists.
Jesus' parable of the Prodigal Son and Paul's message throughout Galatians is one and the same. There is one Gospel and we as Christians must oppose with all of our might any who would teach to the contrary. We must personally fight for our freedom in Christ (Gal. 5:1) and we must expose all who attempt to lead others astray (Gal. 1:8-9). And because heaven and hell hang in the balance we see both Jesus and Paul direct their greatest anger against such false teachers who seek to nullify grace. A wonderful example is found in verse 7 and the verses that follow.
Look with me at verse 7. Paul rhetorically asks, "You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth?"
The Greek word for "hindered" is "egkopto" and it means to "thwart" or "block the way" or "cut in" (NIV). It's especially significant this week during the Olympics (as the Track and Field events begin) as its normal usage back then was made in reference to interfering with a runner and impeding his progress. In other words, Paul wants to know how this church could leave the starting blocks so well, make good progress for the first 50 and then sadly be taken off the track and out of the race by someone not competing according to the rules. Spiritually, this interference was not an innocent mistake or a harmless offense. It was contrary (verse 7) to "obeying the truth."
I like the way Paul addresses this question. "Who hindered you?" Paul knew who the offenders were and so did the Galatians. But so often when we are being deceived we need someone to point out what we cannot see for ourselves. Paul wanted the Galatian church to think this through. It's amazing how many times I have seen Christians jettison the truth, shipwreck their faith, experience tremendous agony in their personal lives and not be able to detect where their lives went off course when it is so plain and obvious to others around them how they had disregarded the truth!
We can see it in this Galatian church! Our response, like Paul's as we have been studying this letter has been, "What are you guys thinking!" Yet they were blinded and like so many people in this predicament they took out their aggression on Paul as he confronted their error with the truth. Remember 4:16? "So have I become your enemy by telling you the truth?"
You see, the frightening fact about deception is that it always goes unnoticed. If we knew we were being deceived, you can't call it deception any longer! That's why Paul is back to beating the same drum. Verse 8, "This persuasion did not come from Him who calls you."
It is a biblical fact that God calls His children out of a world of darkness. As he said in 1 Corinthians 1:30, it is "by [God's] doing [that] you are in Christ Jesus." And when God calls people to Himself, He always does it by the way of grace. It is grace that opens our spiritual eyes. It is grace that forgives our sins. And it is grace that empowers our spiritual growth. The false teachers taught legalism and legalism has no part in anything that comes from God. Persuasive? Yes, Paul says, but the persuasion did not come from God. Are you persuaded to accept anything not from God or is your life persuaded to believe and apply what is from Scripture?
You see, when we step outside of God's way we remove ourselves from the umbrella of His protection and enter the domain of Satan that is more powerful and deceptive and destructive than we can ever imagine. And as I have seen in my years as a pastor, it does not take much. A little false belief can destroy a life.
One author commented, "Your life as a Christian is seemingly full of Christ and there is no room for self, but an aggressive sin comes in and wiggles his way in, crowding out Christ just a little bit. You give place to this sin and soon another does the same thing. Sin by sin, error by error, selfishness by selfishness, the backsliding continues until you are virtually empty of Christ and full of self" (Richard Owen Roberts).
A single sin can destroy a person and a single false teacher can destroy a church. That's why Paul said in verse 9, "A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough." A body can be ridden with cancer because of one cell. A team can lose its morale because of one bad apple in the locker-room. And speaking of bad apples, one bad apple mixed among other good apples in a bushel can contaminate the rest of them.
I believe the power of false teaching comes in the fact that many of these teachers can look impressive and much of their teaching is often true! But he devil is in the details! And that's why our greatest defense against false teaching is to think for ourselves and examine everything we hear with the Word of God. Gullible, lazy and arrogant Christians make the most fertile ground for the seeds of false teaching to spread like weeds.
But Paul in verse 10 still wants to believe the best for these Galatians. He turns the discussion off the false teachers and on to himself. "I have confidence in you in the Lord that you will adopt no other view; but the one who is disturbing you will bear his judgment, whoever he is." Paul knows the destiny of false teachers. They will indeed bear the future judgment of God, but he also still has confidence in the Galatian church that they will indeed remain faithful to biblical teaching.
"Adopt[ing] "no other view" is an interesting phrase. Ever watch "The View?" It mirrors modern America. And as that show testifies, there is no such thing as "the view" because in modern America there are no absolutes. It should be called "The Views" or "Many Views!" Everybody is entitled to their opinion all options are to be cherished, except the opinion that you are right and another is wrong. It is the age of tolerating everyone's viewpoint (better said needing to accept everyone's viewpoint), providing that viewpoint is not biblical teaching. According to the world, that view is not to be tolerated! But Paul in verse 10 says just the opposite! He promotes the biblical view and calls us to "adopt no other view."
And as anyone can tell you who does adopt the biblical view on any issue, there will be persecution (just ask Dan Cathy or Kirk Cameron!). The world is the domain of the devil and the father of lies will point his children against anything that promotes Christ. Expect it! It happened to Paul as we have learned already (Gal. 4:29). He repeats how he was treated in verse 11. "But I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? Then the stumbling block of the cross has been abolished."
It appears that the Judaizers were telling the Galatians that Paul believed and taught that circumcision was necessary for salvation just like them. But as Paul argues in verse 11, if he preached a works salvation he would not be receiving the persecution that he has experienced. Paul preached Christ and whenever Christ is preached (if I can borrow Paul's own words) there will be those who consider it the sweet aroma of life and others who consider it the fragrance of death (2 Cor. 2:16).
And why is this? Because preaching Christ is preaching the cross and as Paul says in verse 11, the cross is a "stumbling block" to many. The cross teaches that I am not good. It teaches that my sin was so heinous that the Son of God needed to die to accept the penalty I deserved. The cross teaches that I can't get right with God based upon my own efforts and must depend entirely on the work of another. And to add to this, the cross teaches that Jesus is therefore the only logical way to eternal life. As Paul said, preach a false gospel and the world will love you. Look at chapter 6, verse 12, "Those who desire to make a good showing in the flesh try to compel you to be circumcised, simply so that they will not be persecuted for the cross of Christ" (cf. Gal. 1:10). Preach Christ crucified and they'll want to treat you like they did Jesus!
And then one of Paul's most harsh statements in all of Scripture. Verse 12 captures his righteous indignation and deepest love for people in his desire to see them understand the truth. After all it is only the truth and people that really matter, because only the truth and people are eternal. Paul says, "I wish that those who are troubling you would even mutilate themselves."
Don't miss the simple plain meaning of this passage. The false teachers were arguing that circumcision is the way to godliness. So Paul responds, if cutting off a little is beneficial why don't they simply go all the way! Emasculation was often done by cult religions. So Paul argues, if they want to be pagan in their theology, why don't they be pagan in their practices?
I am sure you noticed that I skipped verses 5 and 6. I wanted to cover them this morning with everything just mentioned as an introduction. Yet due to time, we need at this point to turn our attention to the Lord's Table. Those two key verses that will have to wait until next week begin the bridge of all that will follow in chapters 5 and 6.
Two weeks ago I was asked the question: "If good works do not matter before salvation as you have been proclaiming, why do they matter after salvation? As God permits, next week we will answer that question as we transition with Paul in Galatians from theology to application. So why should we who have accepted the Gospel of grace live changed lives and what do those changed lives look like? Lord willing, we'll cover that next week!