Called to Freedom
Galatians I: Two Deadly Cliffs
December 30, 2012
Today we start a NEW SERIES in Galatians. We will be in Galatians for several month, doing our best to learn everything God has for us in it.
After three years and the 10,000 foot view, I am excited to be carefully examining a book. And reading a letter from the Apostle Paul is even better; I cut my teeth on Pauline studies.
* I started by planning to preach through 10 VERSES, then cut it to 9, then Thursday I whittled it to 5.
I encourage you to READ it this week, ONE CHAPTER DAY.
* I fully trust and believe that none of it will LEAVE it the SAME way we came to it.
SCRIPTURE READING: Galatians 1:1-5 (Marilyn)
Rather than beginning with an introduction in Galatians, I am going to JUMP RIGHT IN and allow it to introduce itself:
NIV Galatians 1:1-2 Paul, an apostle – sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead – and all the brothers with me, To the churches in Galatia:
The book of Galatians was written “to the churches of Galatia.” Galatia is basically CENTRAL MODERN TURKEY, not a city but a region. Hence he writes to the “churches,” meeting in homes.
* What would happen is that this letter would be READ PUBLICALLY, COPIED, then passed to other churches.
In coming weeks we will learn more about Paul’s relationship with these churches. In short, he founded them personally and had a WARM CONNECTION with them, or so he thought.
In many ways, this is a STANDARD WAY to start a letter: First say who it is from, then say who it is to.
* In short, Paul is an APOSTLE, someone called by God to PLANT CHURCHES; we’ll get to know Paul better in a couple of weeks.
But Paul is pretty clear about his calling – he was not appointed by humans, but God himself. It is UNUSUAL for him to talk about his CREDENTIALS this much with a church he knew well.
* This may have struck the Galatians as ODDLY FORMAL, hint of troubles ahead.
Paul is going to make a lot of very STRONG STATEMENTS; under his own authority it would be PRESUMPTUOUS.
GRACE AND PEACE
Now it becomes DIFFERENT from NORMAL GREEK letters (though normal for Paul):
NIV Galatians 1:3-5 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
“GRACE” (charis) is very similar to the Greek for “Greetings” (chairein) so it sounds normal-ish, but Paul addition of “PEACE” is distinctly his.
Paul’s great hope for all of his churches is that they be filled with grace and peace:
* GRACE: The over-abundance of God’s GRACIOUSNESS and GOODNESS, poured out undeserved.
* PEACE: Not simply TRANQUILITY, but “SHALOM,” order and certainty in God’s control even in the midst of the storm.
These are NOT things the WORLD can give nor can we GAIN for OURSELVES. They can only come FROM God, who gives them freely to those who can truly call GOD their FATHER and JESUS their LORD.
Now in verse four do we get into the heart of the book:
NIV Galatians 1:4 ...who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father...
Paul TYPICALLY starts letters with some PRAISE or PRAYER or thanksgiving that SOUNDS PERFUNCTORY, out of habit, but on closer examination SETS UP the entire letter.
Q How many of you remember WILLIAM WALLACE’S final battle cry in “Braveheart”?
* Like Wallace, Paul’s cry in Galatians is for FREEDOM.
Words like “FREE” and “FREEDOM” occur more frequently in Galatians that any other book of the NT. Roughly 1 out of every 6 times “freedom” is mentioned, it is in Galatians.
* Even though it isn’t EXPRESSLY MENTIONED in 1:4, it is the same idea.
It is arguably the central theme of the entire book and it is the theme of our series, “CALLED to FREEDOM.” I am using this as the theme verse.
Galatians 5:1 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
Paul PLEADS, he REASONS, he SHOUTS, he CAJOLES. He uses every trick in his bag call us to live in freedom.
* But we should not be surprised that HE MEANS something very DIFFERENT by “freedom.”
THIS PRESENT EVIL AGE
As Americans, freedom means the ability to DO WHATEVER you WANT, so long you don’t HURT ANYONE.
Years ago, I bought a BIKE from a friend, but I didn’t have a HELMET, so I wanted to make sure I was not legally required to have one to ride. He tried to convince me how important it was, but had to admit the law didn’t require me to be smart.
* I was FREE to ride a bike without a helmet.
This is the type of freedom AMERICA CRAVE, and by these standards we are more free than we have ever been.
* If we want a ONE NIGHT STAND, there are websites for that.
* If you want to fill your home with THINGS you DON’T NEED, there are stores for that.
* There are no laws against ADULTERY or ABANDONING your family.
* If we want PORN, there are websites for that (cf. TED TALK).
* If you want to be DRUNK off your gourd, no problem.
* You can now LEGALLY get TOASTED.
* You can MOCK GOD with your FREE SPEECH.
* You free to do WHATEVER with WHOMEVER, no matter how destructive.
We call that FREEDOM, but the Bible has a different word: SLAVERY. This is all part of the “PRESENT EVIL AGE” Jesus rescued us from.
This evil age means that in this time GOD'S WILL is NOT yet done on earth as it is done in heaven. And as a result, it is a BLOODY AWFUL MESS...this is slavery, not freedom.
SLAVE TO OUR FREEDOMS
Q Think of is this way: Is the METH ADDICT FREE?
I have watched it enough to know the sort of control it has. MOTHERS powerless to stop even though it means losing their CHILDREN, men reduced to living on the STREETS.
Q If meth were MADE LEGAL tonight, would they suddenly be free?
Their ADDICTION OVERPOWERS their choice, their morals. They are salves to the drug, unable to stop themselves without help.
* When you listen addicts describe overcoming their addiction, they use words like “FREED” and “RESCUED.”
This is the power of SIN that all HUMANITY is under. We are NOT ABLE to NOT SIN. We cannot stop doing what is wrong.
* The power of PORNOGRAPHY is too strong.
* The JEALOUSY of the gifts others gave their kids controls us.
* BITTERNESS and UNFORGIVENESS won’t let us go, even when we want to.
We call this “ORIGINAL SIN,” the imprint of sin so deep upon our souls that, like the addict, we are not free to not sin.
* There is no way to FREE OURSELVES, our only hope is rescue.
And so Paul begins Galatians by the reminder that God has RESCUED US from this evil age.
The GALATIANS were PAGANS, SLAVES to the evil age. They had been giving themselves over to all sorts of wickedness, out partying every night, sleeping around, cheating, stealing, lying, sacrificing to idols.
* Knowing the BIG ERROR that he has to CORRECT, this seems SURPRISING.
The central problem of the Galatians is LEGALISM: The attempt to improve on what Christ had done by keeping more laws, they to add more holiness beyond what God had called them to.
Q So why this first emphasis on FREEDOM from SIN, not LEGALISM?
* I think Paul needed to show them they needed to be rescued from TWO DANGERS, not just one.
Let’s think about this:
* They might have been SURPRISED by Paul’s response; they may have just thought they were IMPROVING on what he gave them.
Q They were becoming MORE RIGHTEOUSNESS, how could Paul have any problem with that?
* The problem was that they were trying to IMPROVE on GRACE.
Next week we will meet the FALSE TEACHERS who came in and tried to tell them had to obey Jewish laws, “All that stuff Paul told you was GOOD, but now it is time to TAKE IT UP a level.”
They were told that in order to be ACCEPTED by God, they had to do more than be saved by grace through faith; they had to become MORE JEWISH and FOLLOW their LAWS.
* The Galatian Christians, NAIVE and IMMATURE, were intrigued by its promise of an even more ELEVATED SPIRITUAL STATUS.
What the false teachers offered the Galatians was a way to ENHANCE and ELEVATE their SPIRITUALITY, and they found it very appealing.
* This temptation was NO LESS DANGEROUS and no less a part of “this evil age.”
NEVER GOING BACK
Paul’s need to remind them of their SLAVERY to SIN BEFORE addressing their LEGALISM sheds light on an interesting PHENOMENON:
* Christians who’ve been DRAMATICALLY RESCUED from this evil age tend to be the most PRONE to LEGALISM.
Q Why is that?
* They know just how BAD SIN is and they never want to go back and never want to see anyone else go there.
And they are right, as I have said many times, sin is that which destroys US, OTHERS, and our RELATIONSHIP with God.
* That we’d use God’s FREEDOM from sin to RE-ENSLAVE ourselves is certifiably insane and show just how enslaved we are.
FENCES AROUND THE LAW
But LEGALISM is JUST as DANGEROUS as being enslaved to sin. This was a danger Paul was very aware of:
The Pharisees of Jesus and Paul’s day were well known for adding to the Law. They saw the LAW as a PATH running along a high, DANGEROUS CLIFF.
They would ADD LAWS to the Law in order to make it safer, to create a fence five feet away from the edge of the cliff. Keep these added laws, they reasoned, and there was no way that you would be in danger of sliding over.
* EG: NO CHEESEBURGER rule.
This sounds like MANY CHRISTIANS today, adding rules to what God said, trying to be SAFER.
* Ever since being RESCUED from the evil age, the idea of becoming MORE HOLY and MORE ACCEPTABLE seemed APPEALING.
This sounds good in THEORY: WHY NOT be more careful? If eating kosher kept the Jews clean, why not keep clean too?
* Even if Paul didn't say we had to do it, WHY WOULDN'T we do this stuff as well to keep EXTRA SURE?
The problem is that there isn’t only ONE CLIFF, there are TWO. On one side of OBEDIENCE to God was the cliff of DESTRUCTIVE, UNSATISFYING sin that we are rescued from.
* But on the other side of obedience is another cliff: SELF-RIGHTEOUS, GRACE-DEPRAVED LEGALISM.
In fact, that cliff is MORE DANGEROUS. Paul spends more time and energy arguing against legalism than sin.
ENSLAVED TO SIN AND SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS
I said earlier how ENSLAVED we are to SIN, but we are no less prone to SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS.
Self-righteousness is in our BLOOD. The Gospel, salvation apart from works is TOO RADICAL, TOO UNSATISFYING to our EGO, for us to accept it without an ongoing fight.
* Just as LUST is a CONTINUAL BATTLE, the day we stop striving for the GOSPEL is the day we surrender to SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS.
Deep in us, we want to ADD to what Christ has done, we want to have a MORE SPIRITUAL SPIRITUALITY than OTHER Christians.
* We want to feel like we are DOING BETTER and that we have WON some POINTS with God.
If there is one CLEAR PICTURE I could put in your head, one image I could drive in throughout this series is this NARROW PATH of FREEDOM running along between these TWO CLIFFS.
* On this path is PEACE and GRACE, fullness of life, safe from SIN’S MISERY on one side and LEGALISM’S MISERY on the other.
WINDS BLOW along the top, winds of CORRUPT DESIRES, PRIDE, SELFISHNESS, FOOLISHNESS.
Q HOW can we stay on this NARROW PATH?
We can’t, we are NOT EQUAL to the task. It is TOO EASY to fall off. Our only hope is to cling to GOD’S GRACE. But because of God’s grace we walk CONFIDENT and SECURE.
* My prayer is that this series will CONTINUALLY REMIND us of how NARROW the path and how much we NEED the SPIRIT’S HELP.
As we come to the end of our passage, there is one last SURPRISING ELEMENT: Unlike any other letter of Paul’s, he breaks out into PRAISE in the introduction.
NIV Galatians 1:5 ...to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Q Why in this letter?
* The clearer we see how DRAMATICALLY God SAVED us from such great danger, the more PRONOUNCED our GRATITUDE will be.
In this series, I don’t want you just to ACCUMULATE FACTS and TOOLS for avoiding the two cliffs.
Driven by an EVER INCREASING SENSE of this narrow path only he can safely guide you though, I want us to respond with EVER INCREASING and DEEPENING sense of GRATITUDE to God and desire to GLORIFY him.
* Receiving GRACE and GLORIFYING God are a NATURAL PAIR.
* SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS and GLORY make DIFFICULT traveling companions.
Praise NATURALLY FLOWS from GRATITUDE for God’s GRACE and LOVE. In sputters HALTINGLY from the heart that doesn’t GENUINELY BELIEVE its need.
* If you have a WORSHIP PROBLEM, consider if you maybe have a grace problem.
If your worship is based out of a mental sense of THEORETICAL OBLIGATION, it is likely you think you MERIT SOME GLORY rather than being deeply convinced that all glory is God’s.