Rooted in Freedom #1
Text: Galatians 1-2
Imagine if you will that you are a visitor to our church who has been here for the past couple of months. You have been introduced to Jesus through the Gospel of John and found him to be the eternal Son of God, the word of God become flesh, our savior master and Lord. You then went through the book of Romans with us and learned that you were dead in your sins and could not have earned God’s love and acceptance, but that God has freely given of himself through Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross that whosoever would believe on him and receive him as their Lord and Savior would be fully accepted as a child of God. Let’s say that one Sunday after the service, you came forward and shared with us that you were ready and willing to receive Christ’ offer of new life and forgiveness and to trust in Him to save you by faith. We prayed with you and rejoiced with you. Then imagine if I took you into my office and said, “I am really glad that you came forward today to receive Christ as your savior, but there is something else you must do.” Imagine if I then took out a tattoo needle that I kept in my office drawer and asked you to lift up your shirt sleeve so that you could receive the tattoo of grace. I explained to you that having faith in Jesus was all fine and good, but that you could only be truly sure of your salvation after you received your tattoo. I could think of all sorts of good reasons to compel you to get it. I could tell you that God’s people have been doing it for many years and that it shows your unity with others. I could tell you that God requires this outward act to show to the world what’s happened inside of you and if you don’t do it, then maybe your faith isn’t real. I could tell you that I studied the Bible more than you and that you are just a young Christian, so what do you know? As a new Christian, what would you do? You might take the tattoo, proud of how you now look just like everyone else in the church. You might wear your tattoo as the badge of your salvation, after all, it is what seemed to confirm to yourself and everyone else in the church that you were a Christian. There’s nothing wrong with any of that, right?
I use the illustration of a tattoo, and maybe some of you are thinking, yeah, there’s nothing wrong with that. But I could substitute any number of things. You have to believe in Jesus and paint yourself green before you’re a “real” Christian. You have to believe in Jesus and stop watching sports before you’re a “real” Christian. Those are ridiculous, but let’s hit closer to home. You have to believe in Jesus and start giving money to the church before you’re a “real” Christian. You have to believe in Jesus and start going to church every Sunday before you’re a “real” Christian. You have to believe in Jesus and be baptized before you’re a “real” Christian. But wait? Aren’t those good things? Aren’t those things Christians supposed to do?
The churches of Galatia faced similar issues. Some teachers had entered the church and were teaching the Non-Jewish believers in the church that in order to be “real” Christians, they would have to be circumcised like the Jewish believers were. Their arguments sounded convincing enough to these young believers. After all, God gave circumcision to the Jewish people to be a sign that they had a special relationship with God. Now that Gentiles also had a special relationship with God, doesn’t it make sense that He would want them to be circumcised as well, before they could be considered to be “real” Christians?
It is to these churches that Paul wrote the letter we call Galatians, considered by many to be Paul’s earliest letter. In this letter, Paul sought to root the church into understanding of Christian freedom. The book of Galatians is foundational in understanding the nature of the Christian life and the freedom we have in Christ. The theme of this first message is simply this: The Gospel Must Be Kept Free!
Jesus + Something Else = A Different Gospel
After Paul issues his customary greetings, he gets right to the point of his message. There are no words of thanksgiving for the church in this letter as Paul writes in nearly all of his other letters. Instead, Paul abruptly states in Galatians 1:6-7:
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel-- not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.
See this issue of adding something to Jesus as a means of salvation was not a minor point of preference. It wasn’t a case of “you see it your way and I see it my way and were both brothers in Christ and so we’ll have to agree to disagree and bless each other”. In these introductory verses Paul underscores a point that he will continue to drive home throughout this entire letter – the Gospel itself is at stake here. In very politically incorrect language that would probably shock the church today if it weren’t scripture, Paul writes in verses 8-9:
But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.
Ok, Paul, we get it. This is a big deal. But why? Why does this matter so much?
The Gospel Isn’t Ours to Tinker With (1:11-2:14)
In contrast to these men who are troubling the church by tinkering with the Gospel, Paul recounts how he came upon his Gospel message. In retelling his story, the theme prevails that he did not make it to win approval from man, but that God revealed it to him despite opposition and misunderstanding. The key verses in this section are verses 10-12:
For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man's gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
Since I received it from Jesus, I don’t have any right to tinker with it or add my own ideas to it, and neither do you. Look, he says, I don’t preach my gospel in order to tickle your ears and tell you what you want to hear. I didn’t frame my gospel so that we could escape persecution or suffering. I am not trying to please anyone, but to simply speak the truth in love, for as Jesus said it is the truth that shall set you free.
Paul’s first supports his contention that he did not make his gospel by pointing to his own conversion. Rich Mullins, a Christian singer/songwriter, put the words of the Apostle’s Creed into a song that has since been recorded by Third Day and other artists. While most of the words in the song are directly taken from the creed, he added the chorus: “I believe what I believe/It’s what makes me what I am/I did not make it, No it is making me/It’s the very truth of God and not the invention of any man. Those last words sum up this section of scripture very well. I didn’t make up the gospel – it made me.
For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.
Here’s Paul’s story. The Gospel of Jesus Christ made me. I had everything else but Jesus. I was not trying to come up with a new gospel – in fact I was persecuting the church because I thought it was a dangerous cult. And I was advancing beyond all of my religious countrymen, not because I felt I had to, but because I fervently believed in all their traditions. So what happened? Jesus happened! God set me apart, he called me to him in order to reveal Jesus in me. And when I had Jesus, I saw that everything else in my life was merely a tutor to bring me to him. It turned my world upside down. As Paul writes in Phillippians 3:4-11:
If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith
The Gospel made me – Jesus alone made me who I am. Not Jesus plus something else. You can’t tinker with that. If you haven’t come to Christ yet, do you understand that your only hope is Jesus – there is nothing more? If you a Christian, can you say with Paul – Jesus made me, Jesus alone, not Jesus plus anything else?
Paul then describes how, after preaching his Gospel for 14 years, a controversy arose which led him to Jerusalem where he submitted his understanding of the gospel to other Christian leaders. Notice that the purpose of this visit was not to tinker with the gospel so that it was acceptable to all. Instead it was to confirm that the revelation that had been given to Paul was consistent with what other spirit-filled people had heard from God. Paul later wrote in 1 Corinthians 14:32 that “the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets”. Don’t just run around saying “God told me this”, but confirm it with others – did they hear the same thing. The conclusion is found in verse 6:
And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)--those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me.
On the contrary, he goes on to say, they recognized his ministry to the Gentiles and extended to him the right hand of fellowship. So here was the verdict – we heard the same thing, Paul. Jesus + Nothing = Salvation.
But then, trouble. You see, sometimes we can all agree on something theologically, but we still act in ways that give people the wrong impression. In verses 11-14, Paul describes what must have been a very sad day in Paul’s home church, the church at Antioch. The church at Antioch was a mixed congregation, full of both Jews, who were circumcised, and Gentiles who weren’t. Now you have to understand that this controversy was still fresh in the church – people had been telling the Gentile Christians that they weren’t “real” Christians until they were circumcised. The declaration from the leaders in Jerusalem seemed to solve the theological issues, but tension remained in the church. When they gathered together for a meal, they still kept to their own little tables – Jews over here, Gentiles over here. So Peter came to visit – now you have to understand, Peter coming to visit was a big deal – it was like having John Piper come and visit our service. At first Peter spent time mingling with both groups. He’d eat with the Gentiles – something that must have made them feel so included. But then, certain men came from James church (notice that the wording here probably does not mean that James sent them, but that they were from his church – maybe they were kicked out of his church, who knows? We know that James sided with Paul on the issue, so he could not have sent these men). When they came, Peter and others started drawing back from the Gentile believers. Abandoning them. Even Barnabas, who traveled with Paul on his missions to the Gentiles, retreated. Now here is what was at stake, far more than hurt feelings. Peter and the others were sending the Gentile believers the message that their faith was not enough to include them as “real” brothers and sisters. So Paul stepped in, verse 14: But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, "If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?" Paul directly confronted Peter and showed him his mistake – that it was a gospel issue. Now I believe Peter knew his theology. If you asked Peter, he would have said sure they are “real” Christians, indeed the consistent picture of Peter through Scripture is that he agreed with Paul and defended the Gentile Christians. But his actions were sending a message that spoke far more loudly. This is a wake-up call. Even church leaders can hurt people. Did Peter intentionally mean to diminish the faith of the Gentiles? No, but he did, and so Paul needed to call him out on it, bring it to light, so that Peter could repent. Here is Paul’s message to Peter, the Galatians and to us:
Jesus + Something Else = A Negation of Jesus
In verses 15-17, Paul explains how Jesus + Something Else (in this case the Jewish Law) = a negation of Jesus. Let me visually take you through these verses
We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners;
The Jews started from a place where they considered themselves to be superior to the Gentiles because of the legalistic righteousness they found in the law.
yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law
For a Jew to come to Christ, they had to recognize that it was never the intention of the law to make justify (make them righteous)
but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified
The Jews had to trust in Jesus Christ alone, plus nothing else in order to be saved. In fact, they had to consider their own legalistic righteousness as nothing before God. Tearing it down and starting from the same place as the Gentiles (as sinners).
But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor.
Here’s where it gets tricky. The point of the law was to demonstrate that no one could keep it. So if you try to rebuild the wall of legalistic righteousness, you are demonstrating that you never understood the point of the law and that you are trying to trust in something other than Christ. Here’s where Paul gets to the climax:
For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Christ alone in everything I do. My life is Christ, my death is Christ, and its all by faith in the son of God. Therefore,
I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.
Here is the very simple math equation: Let’s say we both have Christ. But I say you have to have Christ + this cool tattoo to be a real Christian. What am I trusting in? I am trusting in my tattoo – not in Christ! Replace the tattoo with anything. You have Christ, I have Christ and circumcision. You have Christ, I have Christ and baptism. You have Christ, I have Christ and my tithes and offerings. You have Christ, I have Christ and my church attendance. Christ + Anything = Negation of Christ. Beloved brothers and sisters, this is the first lesson of Christian freedom: Don’t ever let anyone tell you that there is anything that you need besides Jesus to be saved.
I'd like to end the service by singing a song written by singer/songwriter Derek Webb which so beautifully captures the message we have hear this morning, called "Beloved"
Beloved these are dangerous times
because you are weightless like a leaf from the vine
and the wind has blown you all over town
because there is nothing holding you to the ground
so now you would rather be
a slave again than free from the law
beloved listen to me
don’t believe all that you see
and don’t you ever let anyone tell you
that there’s anything that you need
beloved these are perilous days
when your culture is so set in it’s ways
that you will listen to salesmen and thieves
preaching other than the truth you’ve received
because they are telling lies
for they cannot circumcise your hearts
beloved there is nothing more
no more blessings and no more rewards
than the treasure of my body and blood
given freely to all daughters and sons