Exeter Temple Message notes: Sunday 17th January 2016
Bible Reading: Galatians 1:1-12
The gospel message that it was possible for people from different races and cultures to belong to God by one simple act of repentance seemed like an amazing act of generosity to people who had found paganism empty or who had struggled with slavish obedience to rules and rituals. They joined the church with a sense of liberation and joy.
Some of churches Paul founded became infiltrated by Judaizers who insisted that all non- Jewish Christians needed to become Jews and abide by Jewish ritual law. They did not necessarily argue their case, but set out to discredit Paul by saying he didn’t have apostolic authority and that he taught an easy message in order to win favour.
Paul was concerned that the message of free grace which is the source of the gospel was being lost.
There is nothing that we can do to make God love us more, and there is nothing we can do to make Him love us less. Our relationship with God has broken down because of our arrogance in not giving God His rightful place in our lives. All our best efforts fall short of being able to put things and right and making them stay right. The gospel says that Jesus puts things right for us. We are given a free pardon and His Spirit is placed in our hearts to give us the inward power to stay faithful and to become all we are meant to be.
Every generation seems to lose sight that this grace is now freely available to all people. People in churches all over the world keep falling back into the trap that they somehow have to earn God’s approval by their own efforts or His acceptance through meeting certain cultural conditions.
Paul argues his case in four ways:
1. This is God’s idea not mine.
“I want you to know, brothers that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man not was I taught; rather it was by revelation from Jesus Christ.”
(Gal1:11 - 120
Grace has to be a God thing because people don’t naturally accept grace or give it. The biggest downfall human beings have is pride. We hate to think that there is nothing we they can do to save ourselves and we need to be rescued. The story of Naaman in 2 Kings 5 is a good example.
Man-made religions emphasize human merit and the necessity of human works for salvation.
“When a person works an eight-hour day and receives a fair day's pay for his time that is a wage. When a person competes with an opponent and receives a trophy for his performance, that is a prize. When a person receives appropriate recognition for his long service or high achievements, that is an award. But when a person is not capable of earning a wage, can win no prize, and deserves no award--yet receives such a gift anyway - that is when we talk about the grace of God. (G.W. Knight, Clip-Art Features for Church Newsletters)
The grace of God means these two things:
1) we do need help, let's admit it.
2) the help is there, let's accept it.
2. This is God’s work in my life
Paul had been a very religious man who had kept all the rules but all he had ever done had not been enough to deal with his heart.
Paul was the ideal person to demonstrate what the gospel of grace could do. With his background and with his standing in the Jewish community Paul was unlikely to have come up with the idea that keeping the law could not save you.
He says, “I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.” (Galatians 1:14)
If Paul had been a Jew who had been brought before the authorities for under-performance, then it would be easy to see why he might invent a religion that said he didn’t have to try so hard. But the opposite was true. Paul was good at religion, one of the best. It was precisely because he had kept every rule that he knew, that keeping the rules wasn’t enough to restore him to a real relationship with God. Legalism might make you look good before other people but in your heart you know that it doesn’t fool God.
All that being zealous for religion had done for Paul was to turn him into a terrorist, but the grace of God had transformed him and was living proof of what living by grace could do.
3. This is the way to live for God
Many people were worried that if Paul kept on preaching that people didn’t need to be controlled by strict religious laws, then chaos would reign and people would think they could sin in the morning; get forgiven in the evening and do it all over again tomorrow.
Paul’s answer was that the work of Christ is not just about dealing with our past, it is about his Spirit in the present giving us a new desire to live right. What you ought to do becomes what you want to do and what you now want to do you can now do.
“I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God and it didn’t work. So I quit being a law man so that I could be God’s man. Christ’s life showed me how and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not mine but it is lived by faith in the Son of God.” (Galatians 2:19-21)
4. This is my question for you
Paul is not just concerned that someone is rubbishing his ideas but he has the heart of a pastor. He therefore stops defending himself and his teaching for a moment and asks them a personal question. “After beginning in the Spirit are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?”
There is always a tendency to create measurable but man made standards by which we can judge our own and more often others people’s performance. And in an environment where we offer acceptance on the basis of performance it is so easy to think that God accepts us on that basis too. We fall into the I’m doing my best syndrome.
"Am I doing enough for God?
Does God really accept me?
Could God make demands on me that I could never meet?
Am I sure that God will not one day ask me to "pay up" and I will be unable to do so?
Is it possible that salvation can be so full and so free?"
There are so many evidences of the tenacity of the grip of legalism: Christians who "burn out" in service; Christians who do not feel that God looks with pleasure upon them; Christians who ruthlessly judge others as unspiritual because they don’t conform to the way that we do things around here.
The Galatian Christians had not begun their Christian lives thinking that they must do this or that to be accepted by God but they had let themselves be sucked into the culture around them and to distorted messages they were receiving.
“Christianity is not primarily a moral code but grace laden mystery, it is not essentially a philosophy of love but a love affair, it is not keeping rules with clenched fists but receiving a gift with open hands.”. (The Ragamuffin Gospel Brennan Manning.)