Called to Freedom
Galatians II: Deserting God
January 6, 2013
SCRIPTURE READING: Galatians 1:3-9 (Marilyn)
Q How many of you READ GALATIANS last week?
* Now read it a SECOND TIME, in another TRANSLATION.
As I said, the churches in Galatia would have gotten this as a HANDWRITTEN letter, HEARD it read in their home church, COPIED it, and sent it on to the next church.
As they sat there, HUDDLED AROUND, on the floor, window sills, crammed in everywhere, the first five verses would have sounded mostly normal, but it was just a little to curt. They would have been waiting for the OTHER SHOE to drop:
NIV Galatians 1:6-7 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.
Normally Paul begins a letter by THANKING God for something about the recipients. This is the only letter with NOTHING.
A REAL SLAP IN THE FACE
For New Year’s Eve, we watched “ROBIN HOOD, Men in Tights.” In one scene, the bad guy gets slapped across the face with a metal gauntlet. That is about the IMPACT of this verse.
* Even the CORINTHIANS got something.
Paul has more GOOD THINGS to say to a church filled with sexual IMMORALITY, DISUNITY, DRUNKENNESS and chaotic worship than a church that seems to have its ACT TOGETHER but was trying to EARN SALVATION through works.
* God would prefer that you be a METH ADDICT than trying to EARN God’s ACCEPTANCE through being good.
But that is like saying I’d prefer you be killed by CANCER than a CAR WRECK – one is obvious and easy to see months in advance, then other is subtle and you don’t know till it is too late.
FREEDOM FROM THE CLIFFS
There are two great dangers, two great PERVERSIONS of GRACE. The life God desires for us, walking in OBEDIENT RELATIONSHIP with our Lord and Savior is a NARROW PATH, with cliffs on both sides:
* 1st cliff: DESTRUCTIVE DISOBEDIENCE – Jesus is not LORD.
* 2nd cliff: ATTEMPTING to EARN God’s FAVOR – Jesus is not SAVIOR.
Paul’s theme to Galatians, and God’s great desire for us, is that we be free from both cliffs:
NIV 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.
The YOKE of SLAVERY Paul is warning against is trying to be saved by OBEYING the law. Yet he said don’t be burden again.
* Had they TRIED to JUSTIFICATION by the law before? No. The previous slavery was slavery to their former lives of sin.
The Galatians understood the DANGER of SIN – they had been saved from PAGANISM, IDOLATRY, SEXUAL sins, and DARKNESS, just as many of you have been.
But they were just about to do a CANNONBALL over the cliff of LEGALISM, earning their salvation. They were being ENTICED by “ANOTHER GOSPEL which isn’t a gospel at all.”
LEGALISM IN OUR MIDST
This is OUR STORY – we are easily enticed by LEGALISM. Think back to Paul’s response to the GALATIANS vs. the CORINTHIANS:
* Just because everything LOOKS GOOD in the church doesn’t mean everything is FINE.
There might not be any DIVORCES, no one being ARRESTED crimes, no massive DYSFUNCTION bubbling up. Legalism LOOKS GOOD – better tithes, more Sunday school teachers, etc.
* But we could still be in a LOT of TROUBLE.
Q What is OUR LEGALISM? How do WE JUMP of cliff of legalism?
1. Earning Salvation:
On the most OBVIOUS level, many church goers think they have to perform for God. I recently talked to a woman who grew up in church, but lived in CONSTANT FEAR that she had not DONE ENOUGH.
2. Earning Points.
More SUBTLE is thinking that by doing the right thing, we are EARNING POINTS with God, and that we are in better standing with him than those who don’t.
* It is awesome to SERVE, awesome to GIVE, awesome to TEACH Sunday School, but they don’t EARN you any POINTS.
The Christian who walks into the church 5 minutes AFTER SERVICE starts, leaves BEFORE it is OVER, NEVER SERVES or gives has earned JUST as MANY POINTS as the BAKERS or KAPLANS who pour themselves out for the church – ZERO points.
* SERVING has its OWN REWARD, as well as SELFISHNESS, but both can do NOTHING to add their STANDING before God.
Helpful distinction: UNION vs. COMMUNION. Living a life pleasing to God doesn’t change our union with God, but does affect our communion.
* If you go on DEPLOYMENT for 6 months, you would still be just as MARRIED, but your CONNECTION would be HURTING.
3. Special practices.
Many Christians have SPECIAL PRACTICE that they use to feel like they are better and closer to God.
4. More and better theology
For others, it is KNOWING more. LOVING GOD’S WORD and desiring to understand it is awesome, but with it come a TRAP.
* God’s warning to me about the possibility of having to “CUT off my RIGHT HAND.”
In all these cases, we DOUBT that GRACE is ENOUGH, that is could REALLY be THAT easy. And we are JUST as PRONE to this CLIFF as the other. MORE PRONE, in fact, because it is MORE ACCEPTABLE.
* There is a CONSTANT SLIDE to try to ADD to Jesus with these things, to try to take what he has done and IMPROVE on it.
We create our own little systems of “JESUS PLUS...”, good works, special beliefs, being more faithful, etc.
* God forbid that we just be REGULAR CHRISTIANS saved by GRACE!
Q But really, how BIG of a DEAL is legalism?
I mean, sure your can be filled with SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS, but not necessarily. Sure there can be ARROGANCE. I am not saying it’s good, but isn’t it OVERLY DRAMATIC to say “I’d rather you be a METH ADDICT than a legalist.”
Q Be honest, isn’t that what YOU are thinking?
When I prepare to preach passages like these, typically the first thing that I do is translate it from the GREEK for myself. It is not that the Greek gives me some MAGICAL INSIGHT; it forces me to SLOW DOWN and notice every word.
I realized how easily we make the FOCUS on LEGALISM and gloss over the MAIN POINT, as I just did: Notice WHAT it is that they are DESERTING:
NIV Galatians 1:6-7a I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all.
Q Is it a WHAT or a WHO?
When you leave the GOSPEL and go to LEGALISM, you are not just committing a DOCTRINAL ERROR, you are DESERTING GOD. You are abandoning your RELATIONSHIP with JESUS.
* You have to understand – this is all about RELATIONSHIP.
In the first four verses of Galatians, Paul calls God “FATHER” three times.” We are so BLASÉ about this: “Oh yeah, the Creator of the universe adopted me. But did you see the playoff game!?!”
The word “DESERTING” is a very STRONG TERM, used to describe TRAITORS, switching from one side to another.
This is no minor doctrinal stance. If you give up on the GOSPEL, you are SWITCHING SIDES. Jesus rescued us from “this present evil age,” and you are trying to go back.
The GREAT EVIL of LEGALISM is not the ARROGANCE and SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS that comes from it, it’s ABANDONING God.
Q HOW is it abandoning God?
* You CANNOT hang on to God, you LACK the STRENGTH to follow him; legalism is the DISASTROUS ATTEMPT to RELY on OURSELVES.
EG: If you were to be REPELLING with your dad and decide to cut the rope because “I got this,” your only hope would be that he catches you at the bottom.
Without MINIMIZING the Galatians’ CULPABILITY, Paul now changes his focus to the FALSE TEACHERS:
NIV Galatians 1:7b Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.
These guys are probably a bunch of JEWISH TEACHERS from Jerusalem claiming to be closer to the source and know more about Jesus than Paul.
* They were coming in and BRINGING CONFUSION, adding to the Gospel.
The nature of the GOSPEL is that it CANNOT be ADDED to without DESTROYING it. It is like adding poison to a glass of milk.
GOD DAMN THEM
NIV Galatians 1:8-9 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!
This is very STRONG LANGUAGE, it would have been shocking to the Galatians. And to prove it wasn’t a slip of the tongue, Paul REPEATS himself.
* In the most LITERAL sense, Paul is saying, “God damn them, I really mean that – God damn them.”
I DON’T APOLOGIZE for that HARSHNESS anymore than Paul does. There is a time to be CONCILIATORY and a time to OFFEND, and when the Gospel is being messed with, it is time to offend.
* I must FEAR GOD, not man (or woman).
KEEP ME GOSPEL-DRIVEN
Paul CONDEMNS anyone who POISONS the GOSPEL, beginning with HIMSELF, and I say the same about myself.
If I ever go SIDEWISE and start PERVERTING the GOSPEL and making it about what we do or trying to add to salvation, it is the elder’s job to first warn me, then kick me out.
* Part of having a strong, BIBLICALLY SOUND ELDERSHIP is that we can help hold each other to the HIGHEST STANDARDS.
THESE GUYS have done that. I have been guilty of taking the Gospel for granted, not because I believe in works at all, but because it was so set in my mind that I ASSUMED EVERYONE KNEW. These guys have kept pushing me.
* It starts with the ELDERS; we must be true to the GOSPEL.
OR ANYONE ELSE
But Paul doesn’t stop there: He condemns ANYONE that perverts the Gospel. Disagreement Paul can handle kindly, but not this.
When I speak of OTHER CHURCHES, I am RESPECTFUL, assuming the best and speaking well of them if at all possible. But when I talk about CULTS, I am POLITE, but tell people to avoid them.
* If I have ever been UNCLEAR, let me state UNEQUIVOCALLY:
There are not MANY DIFFERENT STREAMS leading to one river. There is only ONE WAY to being adopted into God’s family – the grace of Christ PURCHASED with his death.
As for any group or teaching that MAKES SALVATION about what WE DO, God damns them for causing people to desert the only true and living God:
1. MORMONISM makes salvation about good works. Joseph Smith claimed he got a message from an ANGEL. Either he was LYING or it was a DEMON. That’s it.
The problem with Mormonism is not that they have to wear special UNDERWEAR or that they used to support PLOYGOMY, it is that they teach SALVATION is CONDITIONAL on OBEDIENCE.
2. The problem with JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES isn’t that they don’t celebrate CHRISTMAS, is it they say SALVATION is dependent on OBEYING the COMMANDS and being a part of the JWS.
3. MOHAMMED claimed to have heard from GABRIEL the archangel. Again, either he was LYING or it was a DEMON.
People debate whether or not Islam is a RELIGION of PEACE, but I care a lot less about that than the fact that it is a RELIGION of WORKS, that salvation is earned.
I could go on. GRACE is what SETS CHRISTIANITY APART for all others.
* Of all religions, Biblical Christianity is the MOST PESSIMISTIC about HUMANITY but OPTIMISTIC about God’s GRACE.
* Please text Sunday School Teachers ; service is almost over
We can be RESPECTFUL, we can “coexist.” I am not saying that we should all go march around Kingdom Hall with SIGNS that say “God damns you.” Scripture has a lot to say about being respectful.
* But you and I need to be CLEAR, very clear, that this stuff is DAMNABLE NONSENSE.
These are not ALTERNATE PATHS, they are paths to HELL. Might God be able to redeem some of those in them? Perhaps, but not willing to risk that.
But speaking to YOU in this church, I am not as worried about you being lead astray by a CULT as by being lead astray by your OWN PHARISAICAL HEART.
* It is so easy for us to CORRUPT CHRISTIANITY into a religion of WORKS and GOOD DEEDS.
We have to be VIGILANT about this TEMPTATION.
I was talking to the leadership this week about being vigilant to PROTECT their MARRIAGES and I quoted my professor, “The way you avoid an AFFAIR is knowing you are capable of it.”
* Lance observed the same thing is true of LEGALISM – we avoid rely on ourselves by knowing just how prone we are.
SEAR the IMAGE of the NARROW path between two steep drop-offs. Your lusts, selfishness, pride, sinful nature try to push you off the cliff of destructive sin or the cliff of legalism and earning points with God.
Q Which form of LEGALISM are you most PRONE to: EARNING SALVATION, Earning POINTS, Special PRACTICES or KNOWLEDGE?
Q Are you TRUSTING WHOLEHEARTEDLY in God to keep you on the path?
If not, REPENT and throw yourself entirely on God’s MERCY and GRACE. Drink DEEPLY of his LOVE and ACCEPTABLE. Then come and WORSHIP him in JOYFUL HUMILITY.