Faith That Works In It's Rest - Part Two
Scripture: Galatians 5:2–12
Faith That Works In It's Rest-Part TwoGalatians 5:2-12
Sunday, August 12, 2012
Pastor Randy Smith
Two weeks ago I received this e-mail from a man in our church:
"Just returned home from today's sermon. I have to say after weeks of trying to understand legalism and after [hearing] your sermon today, I think you finally have made a pin prick in me. I am all about works. So much so, I think it has blinded my sight towards faith and grace. I have come a long way [recently] from drugs, sin and alcohol, that I have [wrongly] convinced myself the only way to regain God's grace is to perform works that will even the score."
Like this gentleman once believed, most people have the incorrect attitude that they need to perform certain actions in order to be accepted by God. They believe if they achieve some standard, even out the scales for the wrongs they've committed, God is obligated to receive them. Unfortunately this attitude is unbiblical, and this attitude is destined to fail every time. We are much worse and God is much more holy than we care to imagine.
That is why, as we have been learning in Galatians, God saves people on the basis of grace. He does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. And when He accomplishes our salvation entirely through the sufficient work of Jesus Christ the glory goes not to self-righteous sinful individuals who attempt to take credit for their good deeds, but to Him who is shown to be altogether loving and merciful.
So I think after spending months on this particular theme, the responses I have received from you have been ones of understanding. But that leads to another question that I mentioned last week that I also received recently from a person in this church. "If works do not matter before our salvation because God accepts us on the basis of grace, why should they matter after our salvation?"
This morning I would like to answer that question. Though I could give several reasons, I would like to provide two found in verses 5 and 6, the two verses that we omitted last week. Many pastors shy away from excessive preaching on grace because they feel it could lead their congregations to assume that obedience to the biblical commands no longer matters. That is unfortunate because even though Paul spends chapter after chapter promoting and defending salvation by grace alone, he does not lose sight of the fact in this letter that once saved, works do play an integral part in our new relationship with God.
1. Desiring Future Righteousness (5:5)
The first of two reasons. Obedience to the Bible matters now for Christians because of what our future status in heaven one day will be. Look with me at verse 5, "For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness."
Let's make sure our theology is correct at this point. The moment we come to Christ by faith we are justified before God. It is a legal standing where God no longer counts our sins against us. It is the Judge of world saying, "Not guilty!" And this verdict is not based on anything we did, but rather completely on the work of Jesus Christ. When on the cross He took all our sins upon Himself and in return gave us His perfect righteousness. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, "He [God the Father] made Him [God the Son] who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." A great exchange took place. The Father now sees us and accepts us because we are clothed in Christ's perfect righteousness. That is grace! That is what theologians call, "positional sanctification." That is who we are in the sight of God.
God has declared us as righteous as Jesus. Yet we often do not feel very holy in practice. We still sin. But as Galatians 5:5 teaches, the sinless position we enjoy on earth one day will be realized in heaven in practice. At that point we will also be made (not only declared) as holy as Jesus. We have God's promise (verse 5 - "the hope of righteousness") because of this Gospel of grace that the moment we enter heaven we will be instantly changed to enjoy our eternal existence without sin both in our lives and in our surroundings (Rom. 8:18).
So how do you feel about that? How do you feel about existing throughout eternity away from the presence of sin? How do you feel about living in perfect holiness forever and ever? Your answer to that question might very well determine the reality of your salvation. And you answer to that question will influence your present attitude toward personal holiness. To put it simply, how can I believe this truth, be excited about going to heaven and then have no interest to live as I will exist throughout eternity?
Romans 12:9 says Christians are to "[Hate] what is evil." 1 Cor. 2:16, we are to have "the mind of Christ." Ephesians 5:1, we are to be "imitators of God." 1 Peter 1:16, we are "be holy [as God is] holy." Sin nailed our Savior to the cross. Sin brought the curse upon us. Sin is responsible for all the pain in our lives. This world, moved by the devil, cherishes sin. All this should make us long for the world to come of total righteousness where God's declared will is always done (Mt. 6:10). This is how God's children should think. And this attitude brings God pleasure. Hebrews 11:16, "But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them." So with all this said, it is safe to assume that Christians should long for the world to come to be with their Savior and dwell in a place of holiness where God's righteous will is always witnessed and their incessant battle with sin is forever abolished.
That is Paul's point in verse 5, "For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness." Are you? Are you "waiting" (anticipating, looking forward to) your future righteousness? If before the sermon I were to ask you what you are looking forward to, would this have even made the top 10? According to Scripture, it should have! And here is my point - if you are excited about future righteousness shouldn't you be excited about present righteousness in your own life right now?
It is like the freshman kid in college who wants nothing more than being a neurosurgeon, but he sleeps through his classes and spends every evening playing X-Box! His life is a living contradiction! Or better yet, a person that says she going to heaven, but is living a life that more resembles the attitudes of hell.
You might be thinking, Pastor, I have no desire for future righteousness or I want future righteousness but I don't feel confident about achieving it. Verse 5 addresses both of those issues.
Paul uses the inclusive pronoun "we" in the beginning of the verse which implies that future righteousness is a guarantee for all Christians. It so much a guarantee that the verse says we are "waiting for the hope of righteousness." Hope when it is used it the Bible is a confident assurance. All Christians can be positive that heaven is in their future, and in heaven they will be perfectly righteous.
But why so much certainty? Isn't it arrogant for me to say I'm confidently going to heaven? Absolutely not because of two other words in verse 5.
One, our assurance is not based on the fact that we are trusting in our works and hoping we are good enough to pass God's test - that would be arrogant and this whole letter has shot that thought to pieces - but rather that we are walking by "faith" (see it there) and trusting entirely in the work of Christ to pass the test for us. Isn't this what God promised? To express uncertainty then is to cast doubts on God's trustworthiness! Jesus promised that if we believe in Him we will go to heaven. We then assert that we can't be confident. That is the lack of faith!
And two, in verse 5 I see the word "Spirit" as in the Holy Spirit. Christian living is doing all "through the Spirit." It is the Spirit dwelling within me as a down payment of my future inheritance (Eph. 1:13-14). It is the Spirit that gives me assurance of biblical truth. It is the Spirit that regenerated my heart. And it is the Spirit that empowers me toward a present life of righteous living. Without the Spirit I am not Christian (Rom. 8:9); with the Spirit I am able to overcome the flesh and live righteously now (cf. Gal. 5:16-18, 25) as I wait with anticipation and confidence for my future redemption of complete righteousness.
2. Displaying Present Righteousness (5:6)
So I should pursue righteous living now in the Spirit because I desire future righteousness in heaven, and the second point, I should pursue righteous living now because I am commanded by God to do so in this life. Look with me at verse 6, "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love."
A little background and then we'll get to my point. Keep in mind the problem with this church. They were abandoning grace in favor of works. And the works they were trying to obtain were compliance with God's Old Testament ceremonial laws, the biggest one of course being circumcision. And since they were considering circumcision in an attempt to earn God's favor, Paul said in verse 2 of chapter 5 that if they "receive circumcision, [then] Christ will be of no benefit to [them]. Either they travel down the "grace road" trusting in Christ alone or they travel down the "works road" trusting in their ability to, verse 3, "keep the [entire] law." There is no other option. Pursuing circumcision (or any other work) to get saved is wrong, but to pursue circumcision for any other reason is perfectly acceptable because, verse 6, in the eyes of God "in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything."
So what does matter in the eyes of God? If it is not us working for our salvation, what is God looking for? Look at the remainder of verse 6. What does matter is "faith working though love." Circumcision means me working for a reward. Faith means trusting God to work for me and through me for His glory.
As we have repeatedly said, our salvation is a product of our faith in Jesus Christ. And what I believe Paul is saying here is that when we have faith in Jesus Christ, it is not only a believing faith, but it is also an acting faith. Or as Paul said in verse 6, a "working" faith.
I am the first one to say that we are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves us is never alone. Through the Spirit of God there is a working of our faith. Or spoken negatively from the perspective of James, "Faith without works is dead" (Jas. 2:26). So instead of living legalistically by the Law and pursuing self-effort to earn our salvation, we live by faith in Jesus Christ who through the power of the Holy Spirit produces works through us that give evidence of His presence, evidence of our salvation. Again it is not that works are added to faith to get saved. Rather it is that the faith that saves will show itself in a faith that works. Again, not to get saved, but to show the reality of a saved life!
That was deep so I'll give you a moment to come up for air!
Another term for works is spiritual fruit. My pear tree has made many sermons. Unless you just joined us recently, you know that I have been very patient with this tree. It is been in my backyard for several years. It is rather ugly, but I've kept it around because I was promised that it is a pear tree. The only problem is that it has failed to bear any pears - until last year when it developed four pears that were prematurely harvested by my daughters. Well, this year I am excited to announce that I counted nearly a hundred pears on the branches - until last month when they were all systematically removed by the squirrel population. So though I will not enjoy any of its pears this year, I am at least confident that it is indeed a pear tree! Why? Because it gave evidence to the fact by bearing fruit!
The same may be said of a Christian. When the Holy Spirit takes up residence in our lives, He bears works, spiritual fruit in us. Jesus made this clear with His familiar words from John 15: "I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit… Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned" (Jn. 15:1-2, 4-6). All Christians will bear spiritual fruit and the absence of spiritual fruit is the evidence that a person is not in Christ.
So the next question logically has to be what does this spiritual fruit look like that the Holy Spirit brings forth? The Bible tells us right here in Galatians. Chapter 5 verses 22-23, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness [and] self-control." As natural as a pear tree produces pears, Christians in the Spirit will produce these character traits.
Let's go a little deeper. My interpretation may change when we get there, but Galatians 5:22 does not call them the "fruits" (plural) of the Spirit. It is the "fruit" of the Spirit. I am not denying that the Holy Spirit produces in us all that God expects from us in the Christian life. But I do believe the primary fruit of the Spirit is singular, which is love. "The fruit of the Spirit is love" (Gal. 5:22). Back up to 5:14, "For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'" Back up to our verse, 5:6, what does matter is "faith working through love." The Greek word Paul uses for love is "agape."
It is simply this. Every commandment in the Christian live comes down to love. Not love as the way the world defines it, but love that delights in following God's Word in an effort to put Him and then others above ourselves. It has been said that if I love God and others, I can do whatever I want and never worry about committing a sin. The unbeliever walks in the flesh which produces a love for self. The believer walks in the Spirit which produces a love for God and others over self.
So consider the biblical commands and then answer the following questions: Who is a person loving when he gets intoxicated? Who is the child loving when he dishonors his parents? Who is person loving when she is unfaithful to her local church? Who is a spouse loving when he is unfaithful? Who is person loving when she lies? Who is a man loving when he steals? Who is a person loving when he gets angry or bitter or impatient? Who is a mother loving when she terminates her pregnancy? Who is a child loving when he takes the Lord's name in vain? Who is a young man loving when he deals drugs?
"God is love" it says in 1 John 4:8, but that does not mean that love is God. It is only when we in faith allow God through the Spirit to work in us that we will exhibit divine love to others in a way that brings Him His praise and glory. And without this love, says 1 Corinthians 13:2, we are "nothing."
So we trust God in faith and allow His Spirit to work through us. When we do this, He will produce in us the spiritual fruit of love that puts God first and others second - by the way aren't these the two greatest commandments (Mt. 22:37-39)?! This is how a Christian operates and glorifies God!
Do you see why our works once saved by grace are now important? Do you see how they foreshadow the person we will be for all eternity? Do you see how they show evidence of true faith and God working in us? As Christians may we understand the beautiful truth of free grace, but may we also understand, as Paul said in verse 7, that we have a responsibility for "obeying the truth" as well. For the grace that saves is also the grace that works, that empowers us to be all that God wants us to be.