Religion that destroys Joy versus the Spirit Galatians 4:8-20; 3:1-5 March 1, 2009
Do you keep up with the list of foods that are good for you and bad for you? My friend said, “I just hope no body says pepper is bad, ‘cause I love pepper!” And the next day there was some report about the ill-health effects of pepper.
It seems that there are things you want to do, and things you ought to do; things that add to your joy and peace, and things that cost.
But when we start thinking of our Christian walk like that – what I enjoy doing, versus the rules I ought to follow – everything about Christianity becomes a burden which eats away our joy like acid.
The remedy? What we require is the ministry of the Holy Spirit of God!
A. Verses 8-10. They are going backwards! What are they going back to?
1. Verse 8, “who were no gods” and verse 9, “turn back” imply that these former idol worshippers were returning to the rules and tradition of idolatry!
2. But the problem Paul has been warning against is a return to the Law of Moses: in order to taste the blessings of what God has done for you in Christ, you must adopt the rules and strictures of the Law of Moses!
3. Which is it? The unsettling conclusion (see IVP Commentary – Biblegateway.com): To Paul both are the same! Leaving the grace and freedom in Christ for bondage to anything – whether pagan idols or the Mosaic Law – is equally reprehensible.
B. And it matters! You can’t miss the emotional intensity here.
1. This text can’t be read in a calm monotone --- 11-16 [read in boring ‘church voice.’]
2. “Again in labor…”(19, 20) He was their “spiritual parent”, by his preaching they were born into the kingdom. But now he feels like it has to be done all over again! He feels spiritual labor pains – sleeplessness, heaviness of heart, worry and anxiety over their spiritual health.
3. If he was there in person his voice would be raised, he’d be pounding the table, there might be tears in his eyes.
4. You know what’s bothering him? It’s not just a matter of teaching them the correct theology, but that they are losing the freedom and joy of the good news of God’s free grace for them in Christ.
C. And behind this spiritual decay is the way they have ignored the continuing ministry of the Holy Spirit.
1. We’ve been studying the Holy Spirit for a few weeks, asking: how do Christians experience His ministry in their hearts. It’s easy to overlook His work, so I’m trying to get us to notice His ministry in us and around us.
2. It is not the main point of this letter or this passage, but Paul uses the Spirit’s ministry as a powerful argument against this dead, calcified Christianity that is threatening the Galatians.
3. So Paul asks some penetrating questions. One, from this passage, I’ll get back to in a moment. But the first is in Chapter 3.
a. We, rightly, don’t want to base our faith on experience because it can mislead us. Later (vss. 6ff) Paul lays a foundation for the same point from Scripture – so experience does not stand alone.
b. But notice this: the experience of the Holy Spirit was so palpable, real and irrefutable that he can point to it in order to make a theological point: “Remember when you got the Holy Spirit?” [Vs. 4 - “suffer” is neutral (margin; Hendriksen) NEB: "Have all your great experiences been in vain?" And verse 5 – among you or in you (vevn u`mi/n).]
2. Their lives had changed when the Holy Spirit came! They experienced rebirth into the kingdom (John 3), forgiveness of sins, confidence to call God Abba (4:6), joy and peace (Rom. 14:17), began to see Jesus with new eyes, and were able to comprehend the Word, and were filled with love for other Christians and felt a part of this new family, and had them courage, passion and freedom in prayer!
3. It was real! “Remember guys? And remember how you received Him? You didn’t have to stand on your head, prove how well you followed the rules, you received the gift of the Holy Spirit because Jesus had done it all on the cross – not you. All you did was trust Him, open your heart and say ‘yes’!”
B. But having begun with the Holy Spirit, they were now walking without Him (3).
1. “Perfected” means “matured.” They thought they could now live and grow spiritually without the Holy Spirit.
2. And as they put aside the Holy Spirit – the gift of God’s grace, the promise of His power – their Christian walk degenerated into a set of do’s and don’ts.
1. Blessing: (Rom. 4:6,9) μακαρισμός: a state of happiness…ποῦ οὖν ὁ μακαρισμὸς ὑμῶν; ‘where, then, is that happiness of yours? Or, ‘you were so happy! What happened?’
2. They once had the joy and freedom of salvation by faith alone, trusting in God’s grace – no more fear, no more rules to win the favor of the gods, no more superstition. They had felt light, like dancing; now they feel like they’re on a tight rope carrying a 100 pound sack – worried about stepping too far this way or that. What happened?
3. Do we just ignore the Word of God?
a. We’ll see next week: When we walk by faith, by the power of the Spirit, the word of God is something we hunger for, like a man bitten by a snake who calls the hospital and follows every instruction to the letter.
b. But if we neglect the power and presence of the Spirit, everything – even the Word – just becomes rules which burden us and eat away at our joy.
B. We began with the Spirit – but what do we have to lose if we neglect the Spirit now? Without the Holy Spirit:
1. It becomes about what is outside instead of what is inside.
a. Rules are something we can all obey and they make us look good. Jesus (Mt. 23) said the Pharisees, who kept the rules better than anyone, were like “white washed tombs” – pretty on the outside, but full of rotting bones on the inside
b. You don’t need the Holy Spirit just to keep rules! We discuss the do’s, don’ts, and we boast , ‘I don’t do this, I always do this, I can’t believe you do that…” The rules are like a good map: who needs someone with you who knows the way if you have a good map! And things are great when we are on the big highways, but our lives fall apart when there is a detour, and we have to turn off onto a dirt road. And we have no one with us who knows the way, because though we began with the Spirit we have not continued with Him.
c. Rules are about outside change. We can do that. But the Spirit of God does His work on the inside – II Cor. 3:17, 18, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all…beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image… For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” He doesn’t just dress us up, He makes us new!
2. It, therefore, becomes about us rather than God.
a. Since rules keeping is a human endeavor, it feeds our pride. Remember the little story Jesus told (Lk. 18:11,12) about the Pharisee who went up to the temple to pray, “I thank thee that I am not like this dirty urchin. I don’t steal, or break the law; I fast and give money.” (Somehow I imagine him praying this in a British accent!)
b. But God wants us to be filled with praise for His grace to us in Christ Jesus every day, every moment. Ephesians 1:6 – God loved us, called us to Himself, forgave us in order that we might praise His lavish grace! And the presence of the Holy Spirit is the seal, the promise of all that God has promised us (Eph. 1:13f; cf. Heb. 10:29); it’s what makes us praise God’s grace.
3. It becomes about the past rather than the present.
a. This brings us back to the two questions. “You began…but now..?” and then “What happened to your joy?” There was something good, joyful, free and wonderful, but that was then and this is now.
b. Now if you ask for a testimony a Christian has to reach back years and years to when he or she first came to Christ – but where is God now? What is the Holy Spirit of God doing in your life now?
c. We become Christians who only sing the first 2 verses:
Amazing grace! how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
2 ‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed!
d. But that old slave trader, who was wonderfully saved continued in the Lord. He wrote about more
3 Thro’ many dangers, toils, and snares,
I have already come;
’Tis grace hath bro’t me safe this far,
And grace will lead me home.
May the power and presence of the Holy Spirit give us freedom and joy, and make our hearts sing the praises of God’s grace.
Louw, Johannes P. ; Nida, Eugene Albert: Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament : Based on Semantic Domains. electronic ed. of the 2nd edition. New York : United Bible societies, 1996, c1989, S. 1:301