From Slaves to Children of God

Years ago, I stood in a hospital room visiting a member, Vince, and his wife. Vince was going to have open heart surgery to repair a blocked artery. While I was there, a nurse came in to discuss his surgery, and to his surprise she said, “I want you to know, during your surgery, I will be holding your heart in my hands.” I later thought, what an apt description of how God sends Jesus to us, and how Jesus, by virtue of being our Savior, holds our hearts in His hands. What better place for our hearts and lives to be than in the hands of Jesus Christ our Savior.

Today we continue to discuss the Epistle of Galatians as Paul eloquently defends and proclaims the beauty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As my colleague, Pastor Steve Kramer, has been sharing, nothing is more beautiful and lovely than the truth that Jesus Plus Nothing Equals Everything. In Jesus, God gives us peace with Himself and grace without limit. We don’t have to add anything to the gospel. By faith in Jesus alone, we are assured of our salvation by being in a relationship with God as His children.

As Paul is writing, he shares his own spiritual journey. He formally had been Saul, the persecutor of the Christians. With misguided zeal depending on his pedigree, he persecuted those who professed to believe Jesus was the Messiah. But when Saul met the living Lord Jesus on the road to Damascus, he was radically converted to understand that Jesus is the Lord of life and the source of grace, and being in a relationship with Him by faith alone is the basis of being the people of God.

So in this epistle, Paul confronts Peter. Peter had a great relationship with the Gentile Christians in Galatia, but withdrew from them when the Jewish Christians were around, believing one had to add the religious ritual of circumcision to be a Christian. Paul asked, How could you so quickly forget that it is by faith in Jesus – crucified and risen – alone that you are God’s child? It reminds me of the beautiful verse, “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20). My self effort is worth nothing, but the presence of Jesus’ Spirit within me and the promise of His grace is everything.

The book of Galatians tells us Abraham was justified by faith centuries before the Mosaic Law was given. So the function of God’s Law is never the basis of our becoming acceptable to God or becoming His children. We cannot, by self effort, become righteous by our own morality.

The Law, then, is our tutor, to lead us to Christ. It shows us how spiritually bankrupt we are so we will gladly hear the message that Jesus alone is the source of love, grace, and forgiveness. Then we are led to put our confidence totally in Christ for our salvation. That is the gospel. So we become the children of God by faith in Jesus.

Paul says, “In the fullness of time, God sent forth his Son . . .” The Greek language has two words for time. One is “chronos” from which we derive the English word chronology, meaning the sequential unfolding of events – one that follows the other. The other word for time is Kairos meaning a poignant moment of great significance when an event is so impactful our lives are altered from that moment on.

When Paul says, “In the fullness of time God sent his Son,” he uses the word Kairos. It is a moment that had been planned by God from all eternity – the incarnation – where God, who is infinite, became particular in the babe born to the Virgin Mary. In God coming to the world, the plan of God’s salvation began to unfold in a climactic way. God sent His Son into the world. Of all the religions in the world, Christianity is distinctive in realizing human beings can never live morally pure enough to be acceptable to God. Our hearts cannot be transformed with enough purity to lift us into a relationship with God. Only Jesus can do that. Like the passage we know so well says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world would be saved through him” (John 3:16, 17).

Jesus comes down not only to be one of us, to take our sins upon Himself and die on the cross, but He is also raised from the dead, and God vindicates Him as truly the victorious Son of God. In Jesus’ name, by faith, we become children of our heavenly Father.

So Jesus alone is the Savior of the world. Nothing needs to be added. It is as simple as you and I this day saying, Jesus, I confess I’m a broken sinner. I thank you for coming to be my Savior. I thank you for dying on the cross to redeem me from the curse of the Law and to forgive my sins. I place my trust in you.

That is what Paul tells us here. Jesus, the Son of God came to redeem us from the curse of the Law.

Did you hear the story of the man who met a boy who had a bird in a cage?
“What are you going to do with that bird, boy?”
“Oh, I’m going to take it, and I’m going to end it’s life.”
“Oh, you don’t want to do that, boy. Would you like to sell me the bird?”
“No, the bird’s not for sale,” he said.
“Well, how about I give you $10.”
The boy paused and shook his head. “No.”
“Okay, $20 then,” he said.
“The bird is not for sale.”
“How about if I give you more?”
The boy got a glint in his eyes, and he looked at the man’s wallet. Then he asked, “What are you willing to pay?”
“How much do you want?”
He looked again at the wallet and said, “I want it all.”
So the man gave all he had to the boy, and the boy gave him the bird. Then the man, having paid the money, opened the cage door and let the bird fly free.

That is redemption. God, in the life of His Son, paid for your and my freedom from the curse of the Law. He redeemed us by the spilled, precious blood of Jesus the Lamb who died on the cross for us. We are saved and set free at the high cost of God’s love in the sacrifice of Jesus. What’s more, we are transferred from being condemned slaves to being the children of God. We receive the full privilege of being children of God. It reminds me of the verse, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for he has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. 1:3).

All God has to give us is in the person of Jesus. So when we embrace Jesus as the Son of God and our Savior, God has already given us every spiritual blessing. Then, for the rest of our faith-life journey, we unpack the glorious truth of all the Jesus-power (grace and life) can mean for us. We become heirs of every promise God has made, and every promise is validated in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Nothing more needs to be added.

Think of it. It says the Spirit is poured into our hearts. We go from being condemned criminals rightfully deserving the Law’s condemnation to, not only being free of the curse, but also being adopted by our heavenly Father into His family and filled with His Holy Spirit. So there is now freedom in the Spirit to say, “God, you are my Abba, (a term of endearment, like saying, ‘God, you’re my daddy’.” It’s a term of love and intimacy where we are one with our heavenly Father, enveloped in His love forever. We are adopted to all He can give us.

I love how Henry Nowen writes about the unconditional love of God. “God’s love is unconditional. God does not say, ‘I love you, if . . . ‘ There are no ifs in God’s heart. God’s love for us does not depend on what we do or say, on our looks or intelligence, on our success or popularity. God’s love for us existed before we were born and will exist after we have died. God’s love is from eternity to eternity and is not bound to any time-related events or circumstances. ” The unconditional love of God is for you in Jesus Christ.

O. E. Rolvaag in his book, Giants of the Earth, tells the story of a pioneer woman, Beret, and her husband Per, who live on the edges of the Dakota prairie in the late 19th century. It’s a bleak environment, a ghastly struggle to survive, and eventually those circumstances and hardships destroy Beret’s sanity. She grieves and feels guilty for leaving her homeland and her parents. She is appalled at the excesses of American life. She simply cannot endure her life as it’s become.

When grasshoppers come flying out of the west and devour everything in sight, Beret takes her youngest child and buries herself in her immigrant chest, which is her one link with home. The glory of the Lord seems to have departed from Beret’s life. She has nowhere to go to flee the terrors of her mind.

Her young pastor, who had just come to that area to serve the church, realizes Beret needs a miracle of forgiveness to heal her inner spirit. So he decides to preach a sermon not only to Beret but also to all the struggling people in the parish he serves who have to keep going in life. He decides to preach on the glory of God, but as he preaches he feels like his sermon is getting nowhere. As it gets worse, he struggles to find a way to convey the glory of God in His grace and presence.

Then he sees a young mother in his congregation who is nursing her child. Instantly he remembers the story of a young immigrant mother who, in an effort to keep her children together in a busy city, ties all nine of them to her waist with a rope so they can walk safely through the city and not become lost or separated. “There,” the preacher says, “is the glory of the Lord.” If a mother would love her children in this way, how much more does the Lord Jesus love every person still today! For in the death and resurrection of Jesus, He has reached out to you where you are. He has bound your very heart to His heart in the grace of His love. He has poured His Spirit into you. Nothing can separate you from His love.”

That is what Paul was writing about in the glory of the gospel written in Galatians. You are loved and forgiven by God. You are a child of God by faith in Jesus Christ.

Stay on His Shoulders

Charles Blondin was a great tightrope walker in the late 1800s. He strung a rope across Niagara Falls, and much to the amazement of everyone there, walked across quite easily. In fact, he even did some tricks. He walked backward, stopped in the middle, sat on a stool, and ate something. But the greatest trick he did that day was he invited someone brave enough to get on his shoulders and walk across with him. One person had enough faith in him to get up on his shoulders, and off they went.

Now suppose, in the middle of the walk, the man on Blondin’s shoulders said to him, I’m not sure I really trust you anymore. I want to get down and walk the rest of the way on my own. I would imagine Blondin and the people watching would’ve been screaming at him, Are you out your mind? Do you understand how dangerous it is to your peril?

We have a bit of this sentiment happening today in our reading. Paul has written to the new Christians in Galatia. He is asking with high emotion, “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?” His pastoral heart was breaking because he cared about the spiritual welfare of these congregations.

Paul had led these people to Jesus Christ with the gospel and told them that simply by placing their trust in Jesus and Jesus alone, they would be saved. Jesus Plus Nothing Equals Everything. However, after Paul left these congregations, some others came and began to teach something else: Jesus plus something equals salvation. According to these people, in order to be right in God’s sight, you need to be circumcised and follow the Jewish laws, rituals, and dietary rules. Paul, when he hears that the people of Galatia are considering this, he is ready to tear his hair out. So he tries to get them back on track.

This is part of his argument in today’s text. Paul appeals to the Galatians’ personal experience with the gospel thus far as Christians. He says, Listen! I preached the crucified Christ to you so clearly, it was like you could see Jesus in your mind hanging on the cross for you. You were so moved you placed your trust in Him, and it changed your lives. Paul’s preaching must have been very powerful, graphic, and impassioned. In First Thessalonians, he writes about his preaching, We came to you with the message and preached it in power, and the Holy Spirit in full conviction. To the Corinthians he said, I didn’t come with eloquent words of wisdom. I came blasting you with Christ crucified, because that’s how hearts get awakened and lives get changed!

Now Paul is asking some questions of them. “Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard (from me, the gospel?)”

When I read this account, I was reminded of a story from Acts chapter 10 about Cornelius, an Italian Gentile. After hearing the gospel of Jesus, the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out on him and his family, and they began to praise God in a strange language. They believed and were baptized. The Holy Spirit, you see, is the Spirit of the living Christ who moves into a person’s heart, sanctifies and transforms them with the Good News of Jesus. He brings faith in Christ and righteousness, peace, joy, assurance, and confidence in our relationship with God.

Paul continues, “Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law (keeping the rules) or by the gospel (believing what you heard?) Are you so foolish? Did you experience so much for nothing? — if it really was for nothing. Having started out with the Spirit, are you now going to finish your walk on earth by keeping laws and circumcision – by counting on yourselves to follow all these crazy rules? Did you experience this joy, assurance, and peace for nothing? “Does God supply you with the Holy Spirit and work miracles among you by your doing the works of the law (keeping rules), or by your believing what you heard (the gospel of Jesus)?”

Obviously, miracles were taking place in these congregations as they heard the gospel. Their lives were being changed and the power of the kingdom was on display in people’s lives. Healings and all sorts of amazing things were happening. The Spirit was in those places. God was in their midst, but Paul says, You are about to do something foolish now. Why would you revert back to do-it-yourself religion in your relationship with God? You are going to lose everything. It still happens today, by the way.

A young lady in my congregation recently shared that after moving to college, she became involved with a very legalistic group. Fortunately, someone shared the gospel with her again and she had an awakening. She said, “I was a legalist, but grace came and changed me. It brought me back to Christ.”

Not long ago, someone talked to me about having her child baptized. She said, “I want to prove to God that I’m worthy of getting into heaven.” I heard someone else say, “You know with my life, I’m just trying to pay God back. I have to make the best of the second chance God has given me in Jesus. I’ve got to make something of myself.” They are getting off the shoulders of Jesus, trying to make the rest of the walk on their own.

Pastor Paul sees that happening with the Galatians, and he reasons with them. Instead of being so foolish, there is a much better and smarter way to go. It’s called faith. Then Paul points to the Old Testament. Consider the great granddaddy of all the Jews – Abraham.

The false teachers who were messing with the Galatians’ minds must have pointed to Abraham and said, “You know our founder? He was circumcised. So if you want to be one of us, you also need to be circumcised.”

Paul turns that argument on his opponents by pointing to Abraham as a model of faith. Paul quotes Genesis 15 and says, Abraham’s faith in God’s promises was reckoned to him as righteousness. He was credited with a right relationship with God through his faith – not because of circumcision or things he was doing, but by faith in God’s promises.

Then Paul says those who believe in God’s promises and Jesus are in good company. They are descendants of the model of faith, Abraham.

All this attachment to Abraham was foreseen by God when God promised Abraham in Genesis 12 that all the peoples of the world would be blessed in him. This makes the Gentile Christians children of Abraham through faith in Jesus. No circumcision necessary. No rule keeping necessary. You are saved by faith in Jesus Christ.

In fact, Paul continues, “For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse” the rest of your days. You are condemned because you can’t keep the rules perfectly. Then he quotes Deuteronomy, “Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey ALL the things written in the book of the law.” Perfection, you see, is out of reach for the human being.

“(But) Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.” The word “redeemed” means He bought us back for Himself at the cross. His innocent suffering and death bought us as sinners that we might be His own.

“Christ became a curse for us.” In other words, He took the punishment for us. He suffered the curse we were supposed to suffer as He hung on the cross. He experienced the wrath of God, the judgment of God as we hear Jesus cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The Old Testament even talked about it: “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.”

Now why did Jesus go through all that? Paul says, “. . . in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles (you), so we might receive the promise of the Spirit (and be saved) through faith.”

Paul spends the rest of this chapter, telling them that the promise God gave Abraham and His law still stand. The Law, rule-keeping, is simply to show you your sinfulness and your need for the Savior. The Savior has arrived, so place your trust in Him alone.

I came across a little article talking about the purpose of the law. It says, “On warm summer night my wife and I were traveling in our car with Micah, our three-year-old son, who sat in the backseat. After many miles of driving in the darkness, we came to a stop in a remote area, and the brightness of the traffic light revealed all of the dirt and dead bugs on our windshield. Micah said, ‘Look how dirty!’ My wife and I didn’t think much of the comment, until a moment later when we drove away from the light and back into the darkness. Upon re-entering the darkness, Micah quickly piped up and said. ‘Now the glass is clean!’”

It’s the rules, the dirt within us hid under the darkness. But when God gave the law, its light shined on the windshield of our hearts and revealed the filth of sin we collect on our journey. The law, then, simply shows us how sinful we really are. It can’t cleanse us. It can’t make us whole, but it does starkly highlight the true situation of our souls. We are sinners in need of a Savior. This leads us to Christ.

The bottom line of Paul’s message is this: stay on the tight rope walker’s shoulders. Stay on the shoulders of Jesus as you move toward the other side of the river of your life. You see, not only are we saved by the gospel, but we also grow in our spiritual walk by living in the gospel of Christ crucified. The gospel not only justifies, but it also sanctifies us as we hear it and come back to it again and again. The Holy Spirit reassures us in the gospel. He shapes us and molds us into the image of Jesus.

God doesn’t move us beyond the gospel. He never intended for us to leave the gospel behind. Instead He moves us more deeply into the gospel because all the power we need to change and mature in Christ comes through the gospel of grace. It not only ignites the Christian life, but it also is the fuel that keeps us going and growing every day. Real change and maturity cannot come to the Christian apart from the gospel.

C. S. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity, “We (as Christians) must go from being confident about our efforts to the state in which we despair of doing anything for ourselves and leave it to God. I know the words, Leave it to God, can be misunderstood. The sense in which a Christian leaves it to God is he puts all his trust in Christ, trusts that Christ will share with him the perfect human obedience, which He carried out from His birth to His crucifixion that Christ will make us more like Himself. In Christian language, He will share His Sonship with us. He makes us “sons of God.” Christ offers us something for nothing. He even offers us everything for nothing. In a sense, the whole Christian life consists in accepting that very remarkable offer.”

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, how do you keep going and growing in your walk with God? By keeping your eyes upon the crucified Jesus who loves you and died for you to save you from sin and death and the power the devil.

That is the Gospel! For heaven’s sake, don’t get off the shoulders of Jesus. Don’t leave the gospel behind. Stay on the strong shoulders of Jesus Christ as you continue to move toward the other side of the river.

Lining Up Your Life With the Gospel

Working together as the Church of Jesus Christ can be messy business. It always has been. For instance, when we look at the book of Acts in the New Testament, we find conflict, even in the midst of people being led to Jesus through the workings of the Holy Spirit in the apostles and the congregation starting up. We find messiness as these congregations try to figure out how to do life together.

The first church was basically Jewish, and the apostles had Jewish backgrounds. The three thousand who received Christ on Pentecost were Jewish. The early church started out as a Jewish/Christian movement. However, God had bigger plans. For instance, in the story of Cornelius, the Italian who became a believer in Jesus, God showed Peter that He wanted non-Jews in His Church as well. Paul shared the gospel with those of non-Jewish background and many people received Christ into their lives. They began showing up in church, which created a bit of a dilemma for the Jewish Christians who were there originally. These non-Jews had been considered unclean and their enemies in the past. Before Jesus came into their lives, the Jews couldn’t even go into the presence of God after being around them. They wondered if things had changed. Should they be received as equals or begin following Jewish traditions? We find a lot of conflict over these subjects reflected in Paul’s letter to the Galatians.

Paul had gone into Galatia, part of modern-day Turkey, to share the gospel of Jesus Christ. His message could be described as Jesus Plus Nothing Equals Everything. Jesus has done it all for us. Nothing needs to be added. That is grace.

After Paul left that area to start new churches, some Jewish Christian teachers came with some different ideas that contradicted Paul’s message. They spoke like theologians and experts and turned the Galatians’ heads by teaching them, Jesus plus something equals salvation. They accused Paul of not giving the whole story and made him out to be a Johnny-come-lately. They taught that the men had to be circumcised, follow their dietary laws, and celebrate ceremonial feasts if they were going to become a card-carrying, bona fide, saved person in the Christian Church.

When Paul heard what was happening, he was very concerned about the Galatians’ spiritual welfare. So he wrote this letter to get them back on track with the gospel. One of the issues he focused on was the gospel he taught, which was the same as the gospel taught at church headquarters in Jerusalem. He told them this story.

After Paul went to Jerusalem to visit church headquarters and hang out with Peter, James, and John, he went back out on the road to do more ministry. While he was gone, Peter returned the favor and visited Paul’s headquarters in Antioch, which is basically a non-Jewish church. When Peter arrived, he was welcomed, and he treated them as brothers and sisters in Christ. He ate with them, which was unheard of for Jews to do with non-Jews; he treated them as brothers and sisters, equals. But then some of his Jewish peers from Jerusalem showed up and were horrified to learn what Peter was doing. Out of fear of what his peer group would think, Peter separated himself from the non-Jews. Perhaps a bit of nationalistic pride played into that as well. Old prejudices came back into play as these friends talked to him about hanging out with the non-Jews. Peter backed away, as did Barnabas and many of the other Jewish leaders.

When Paul came back to town and saw what was happening, he called Peter out on the carpet in front of everybody. He said Peter’s behavior was absolutely inconsistent with the truth of the gospel. Then he reminded Peter that even he didn’t follow Jewish dietary laws. (Jesus had taught that the Jewish laws were only customs and traditions. They didn’t matter now that Jesus was a part of his life.)

Then Paul points out that the gospel embraced Peter. “(Let’s not forget the gospel, Peter.) We ourselves are Jews by birth, not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is justified not by works of the law (like keeping these traditions and laws) but through faith in Jesus Christ.” No one is justified by the works of the law.

Paul is telling Peter, We are sinners, and as Jews we know these rules about being Jewish, which are being passed on to the non-Jews, don’t save us. We are justified through faith in Jesus Christ.

The term “justified” is used three times in this passage. It is a term from the law courts meaning not condemned by God; pronounced not guilty; pardoned; acquitted. God sees me just as if I never sinned. Through faith in Jesus Christ, we are not guilty in God’s sight anymore. Paul places that as a general principle and gets personal with Peter, “We have come to believe that faith in Jesus Christ is what justifies a person.” Then he makes a universal statement: “We know that NO ONE is justified by doing these works. I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (vs. 16, 20)

Martin Luther writes on this, “Faith connects you so intimately with Christ, that He and you become, as it were, one person. As such, you may boldly say: ‘I am now one with Christ. Therefore, Christ’s righteousness, victory, and life are mine.’”

Paul continues, “The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. To believe otherwise is to nullify what He did for me at the cross” (vs. 20-21). Jesus Plus Nothing Equals Everything. We can only assume Peter saw the light because things changed after that. Paul probably would not have told this story if Peter hadn’t seen the light.

What is the bottom line here? Paul is saying to these Galatians,
Don’t listen to these crazy characters who are saying, Jesus plus something equals salvation. You are not second-class citizens in the kingdom of God. In God’s sight you are His sons and daughters. Jesus Plus Nothing Equals Everything, and He plays no favorites in His kingdom.

Brennan Manning tells a wonderful story that I believe captures this. He writes,
“Shortly after I was ordained, I took a graduate course at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. The professor was an old Dutchman who told the following story:
‘I am one of 13 children. One day, when I was playing in the streets of our hometown of Holland, I got thirsty and came into the pantry of our house for a glass of water. It was around noon and my father had just come home from work to have lunch.
‘He was sitting at the kitchen table having a glass of beer with the neighbor. A door separated the kitchen from the pantry and my father didn’t know I was there. The neighbor said to my father, ‘Joe, there’s something I’ve wanted ask you for a long time, but if it’s too personal, just forget I ever asked.’
My father said, ‘What’s your question?’
‘Well, your thirteen children. Out of all of them, is their one that’s your favorite, one that you love more than all the others?’
‘I had my ear pressed against the door hoping against hope it would be me. ‘That’s easy,’ my father said. ‘Sure, there’s one I love more than all the others. That’s Mary, the 12-year-old. She just got braces on her teeth and feels so awkward and embarrassed that she won’t go out of the house anymore.
‘Ah, but you asked about my favorite. That’s my twenty-three-year-old, Peter. His fiancé just broke their engagement, and he’s desolate.
‘But the one I really love the most is little Michael. He’s totally uncoordinated and terrible in any sport he tries to play. The kids make fun of him.
‘On and on he went mentioning each of his thirteen children by name including my own.’
Then the professor ended the story saying, ‘What I learned was that the one my father loved most was one who needed him most. That is the way the Father of Jesus is. He loves those most, who need Him most, who rely on Him, depend on Him, and trust Him in everything. There are no second-class citizens in the kingdom of God. Placing your trust in Jesus Christ makes you a favorite son or daughter.”

This is what Paul is trying to get the Galatians to claim. But he’s also teaching some-thing else here that’s important for us as followers of Jesus to learn. The gospel of grace is not just the truth to believe in, it’s also the truth to be lived out, to line our lives up with in our horizontal relationships with each other. You see, if you are trusting in Jesus Christ, you are living in a new state – the state of grace. This state has its own norms and customs and values. There are implications for how we feel and think and behave as we listen to Paul point out to Peter that his feelings and thinking and behavior are not in line with the gospel. He seems to be telling Peter, You’ve forgotten how you were welcomed with grace.

My dear brothers and sisters, the ground at the foot of the cross is absolutely level. All of us in the Church of Jesus Christ are sinners and in need of a Savior. All of us are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, not of our own doing. God sees us as His children and loves us all the same. There are no second-class children. We are to line up our lives behind the truth and not treat each other as second-class citizens with our own expectation lists of what makes a person acceptable. We are to love Jesus and then love one another as He has loved us, as brothers and sisters in Christ. That is God’s plan.

Karl Barth, a great theologian of last century, once described the Church using this statement: “The Church is a provisional display of God’s original intention.” We in the church are a display for the world to see that God has provided for the world, to see of what He originally intended when He put it all together in the beginning – loving Him above all things with our heart, soul, strength, and mind. We are to love one another. That was His plan. That is what the future holds in the kingdom of God. We are called to live in a state of grace.

What does that look like in our church today? Well, if the gospel of grace is at our core, then as followers of Jesus Christ, we become color blind. We stand by everybody who is our brother and sister in Christ, no matter what their skin color might be. There is no place for racism in the Church of Jesus Christ. Racism is not a bad habit; it’s not a bad mistake; it simply is a sin. It’s not a matter of sociology; it is a matter of theology. At the root of it is sin. It’s looking at people as second-class citizens.

Years ago I was able to hear E.V. Hill, an African American evangelist preach at a Billy Graham conference. He was a wonderful man of God and told this story in his autobiography. “As a freshman at Prairie View College, part of the Texas A&M system, I was actively involved in the Baptist student union. Our denomination’s annual convention, which included blacks, was held in Nashville, Tennessee. It was a highlight of the year. Much to my pleasure, I was one of two students selected to go to it. White students had raised the money. That was okay with me as I viewed it as an act of pity on their part or at least a chance to ease their guilty conscience. But then trouble began.

“The trip through the South was to be by car – three whites and two blacks traveling together. Remember, this was the 40s. I had no idea how we’d eat or how we’d sleep. So great was my anxiety and hatred over how the trip might turn out that I almost backed out of going. In all my experience, I’d never seen a white man stand up for a black man, and I thought I never would.

“But then Dr. Howard, the director of our trip (and a white man) spoke up. ‘We’ll be traveling together,’ he said. ‘If there isn’t a place where all of us can eat, none of us will eat. If there is not a place all of us can sleep, none of us will sleep.’ That was all he said. It was enough. For the first time in my life, I had met a white man who was Christian enough to take a stand with a Christian black man.”

This is what Paul is talking about today. In the Church of Jesus Christ, we become classless. We no longer see rich or poor, employer or employee, unemployed or CEO. We are members – brothers and sisters of Christ’s family. We drop the attitude – I’ll sit by you in church, but because I run with a different crowd out in the world, I won’t befriend you or share life with you. In the Church of Jesus Christ that lives in the gospel of grace, we are nonsectarian. We don’t look down our noses at other denominations, questioning whether they’re really brothers or sisters or not. We hold on to that core theology – saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ – and whoever buys that is our brother or sister, whether we agree with them on other issues or not.

We are apolitical. I’m not saying we’re not interested in politics, but we don’t define who was really a Christian by a political party or ideology. We don’t put our expectations and preferences on people like that. We are appreciative of variety if we are part of the gospel of grace church. We worship this way; they worship that way. Nothing is wrong with that; it’s just different.

My brothers and sisters in Christ who trust Jesus, who know of His grace, you are equally loved by Jesus Christ. All are sinners; all of us are justified by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. That is the gospel truth of grace.

Believe it, and live it. Line your life up with it.

Don’t Let Anyone Take the Amazing Out of Grace

After attending college, both of my children, Sam and Martha, went to law school and became attorneys. Since Martha attended a law school near our home, I had the great joy of watching her perform in “moot court” one day. Moot court is where law students work in pairs trying cases against one another in a court-like experience. It was quite an experience for me to watch her! The other side set out their position of the case, and then her side had a chance to offer a rebuttal. This was heard by a team of judges who made a verdict in the end. My daughter’s team won that day. They absolutely destroyed the other team’s presentation, and I was gleefully amazed at her precise thinking and reasoning.

We have a court-like event happening in today’s reading from Galatians, which we are studying these days on Christian Crusaders. Paul the Apostle, called by God into ministry, started many churches around an area called Galatia, which we know today as part of modern-day Turkey. He shared the gospel of Jesus Christ, telling them what Jesus had done for them.

Last week I gave you a formula, which represents Paul’s message. It goes like this: Jesus Plus Nothing Equals Everything. Jesus died on the cross as a substitute for sinners like you and me. Then God raised Him from the grave as an affirmation of His sacrifice on the cross. We are rescued by simply placing our faith in what Jesus has done for us. Jesus Plus Nothing Equals Everything. He has done it all.

Unfortunately, Paul had some opponents who were Jewish Christian teachers. After Paul moved on to start churches in other areas, they would come in and refute Paul’s teachings. They basically said Paul had lied and then taught the Galatians this formula instead: Jesus Plus Something Equals Everything. Salvation required things to be added to Jesus’ sacrifice, such as following Jewish dietary laws, circumcision, following Jewish ceremonial rituals, and so on. It’s good that you trust Jesus, but you must do these other things as well. And the people began to believe them.

Paul’s opponents actually hurled three points of attack at him and his gospel message:

1. Paul must’ve dreamed this up on his own.

2. Someone along the way, such as the apostles in Jerusalem, taught Paul these things, but he got it wrong.

3. The apostles at church headquarters were not happy with Paul. His message does not check out with their message.

Paul, upon hearing of these attacks, responded with attorney-like rebuttals in today’s passage (I hope you have your Bibles open as I take you through Paul’s argument.)

First of all, Paul says in his opening, I know some are telling you that I’m simply about being a people pleaser, but I’m here to tell you this is not true. I look only for God’s approval.

Regarding the charges leveled against me Ð I have one main thesis for you to consider: my gospel is not of human origin. I didn’t dream it up on my own or receive it from any human source. Also, the folks at church headquarters are behind me.

Rebuttal #1. I received this message from Jesus Christ, the risen Lord himself. You know what I was before and the terrible things I was doing against God’s Church. I was exercising violence against God’s people and was out to destroy anything to do with Jesus Christ and His Church. Under all that, I was an extremely religious Jewish person and was very zealous about my Judaism. I took great pride in keeping the rules and was amongst the religious elite, top of my class when it came to being a good rule keeper and following the traditions. So not only was I nasty and mean, but I was also prideful and totally sold out to getting rid of this movement.

Now, with this picture of me before you, do I sound like the type of person who could have dreamed up the gospel I shared with you? There’s no way! It had to have come from somewhere else. It came when God entered my life and set me straight.

 

Then Paul points them to the Acts 9 story when his life was turned around by meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus.

Rebuttal #2. God set me apart before I was born and called me through His grace. He was pleased to reveal His Son to me so I might proclaim Jesus Christ to the Gentiles. So if you are wondering where this came from, it came from Christ.

This is a perfect picture of God’s grace. It is a grace testimony. Paul tells them,

You know what I was like. I was terrible! I was doing horrible things and was prideful on top of it all! I believed I had to be the top rule keeper.

Why was he called? Why was Paul rescued? God’s grace. “When God was pleased to reveal His Son to me,” Paul said. It pleased God Ð not because Paul was qualified, not because he was a good guy Ð but because it was God’s will, His grace, to reveal the gospel to Paul. Grace is the free, unmerited favor of God working powerfully on the mind and heart to change lives. We have no clearer example than Paul, himself, that salvation is by grace alone, and not through religious performance.

I like the way Tim Keller Ð a wonderful preacher Ð puts it. “No one is so good that they don’t need the grace of the gospel (like rule keeping), nor so bad that they can’t receive the grace of the gospel.” Paul was deeply religious, but he still needed the gospel. He was deeply flawed, yet he could still be reached with the gospel. It’s all grace.

Now, Paul moves to his next argument.

After God, in His grace, gave me the gospel, I didn’t go to the church headquarters. Instead I went to Arabia for three years for quiet time and solitude with God to reflect and study in order to do the ministry I would be doing.

Rebuttal #3.

(You say my message doesn’t jive with the other apostles in Jerusalem, and they’re not behind me.) After three years, I came to Jerusalem to church headquarters. I became acquainted with Peter and even James, the Lord’s brother, and they didn’t have any issues with me. We shared our own experiences with Jesus Christ.

I am telling you nothing but the truth, so help me God. These leaders were just fine with the gospel I had. In fact, after I came back from meeting with them and began preaching the gospel around my home area of Tarsus, word got around that I, the persecutor of Christ’s movement, was now a proclaimer of Jesus Christ. Everyone at church headquarters Ð James, John, and all the other Christians around them Ð were praising God for what was going on. They glorified God because of me saying, Look at what God has done with Paul!

Paul goes on to say in chapter 2,

Fourteen years later I went back to Jerusalem because of these characters who were trying to turn your head about my gospel. I met privately with the leadership and shared my gospel message with them. Why? Because God told me to go, and I didn’t want to face opposition from these false teachers without the support of my brothers in Jerusalem.

Paul went to Jerusalem for fear the false teaching would split the church and ruin his effectiveness. Two religions, two gospels were being taught (although there really is only one). It would be a mess for people to figure out. The one true gospel is this: Jesus Plus Nothing Equals Everything. Paul feared a church split, so he united all the brothers in the faith he could to stand in unity against these false teachers. He even brought a test case for them, a Greek friend named Titus, who was uncircumcised. Paul asked, Is Titus your brother by simply trusting in Jesus or not?

In the end, the church leaders agreed Titus was their brother and offered him the right hand of fellowship, their stamp of approval, so to speak. They said to Paul, We know you have been called to do ministry with the non-Jews, and Peter with the Jews. God bless you for it. But remember to take care of the poor in your ministry.

What’s the bottom line? Paul gives three rebuttals:

1. I didn’t dream this up or receive it from anyone.

2. All this has been given to me by Jesus Christ himself.

3. People at church headquarters love me. They like what I’m doing.

Paul didn’t share all this to simply make himself look good or to impress us. He was actually seeking a verdict, just like in a courtroom. This gospel, which changed my life, can change yours! So don’t abandon it. This is the appeal: Don’t let anyone or any thing take the “amazing” out of God’s grace for you. “Jesus plus something . . .” is not the gospel. I am speaking the truth, so help me God. Jesus plus nothing equals everything.

You might wonder what difference this formula has for your life. It is the difference between freedom and slavery. The folks who were standing against Paul wanted to take away the freedom Christ gives. They wanted to put the people back under slavery.

We have a cultural freedom in Christ. We don’t have to be Jewish and take on the cultural norms and traditions of our location in order to be a bona fide follower of Jesus Christ. It is Christ alone who saves us.

Philip Yancey, in his book, What’s So Amazing about Grace, writes of his childhood. “I grew up in a church where they drew sharp lines between the age of law and the age of grace. While ignoring most moral prohibitions of the Old Testament, we had our own pecking order rivaling the Orthodox Jews. At the top were smoking and drinking. Movies ranked just below these vices with many church members refusing even to attend something like the “The Sound of Music.” Rock music, then in its infancy, was likewise regarded as an abomination, quite possibly demonic in origin. Other prescriptions Ð wearing makeup and jewelry, reading the Sunday paper, playing or watching sports on Sunday, mixed swimming, skirt length for girls, hair length for boys Ð were heeded or not heeded depending on a person’s level of spirituality. I grew up with a strong impression that a person became spiritual by attending to the gray area rules. For the life of me I could not figure out much difference between the dispensations of law and grace.”

Then he goes on to say, “My visits to other churches have convinced me that this ladder-like approach to spirituality is nearly universal. Catholics, Mennonites, Churches of Christ, Lutherans, and Southern Baptists all had their own custom agenda of legalism. You gain the churches, and presumably God’s approval, by following a prescribed pattern.” Jesus plus something . . . (Paul’s message is baloney and will give you nothing.)

Jesus plus Nothing Equals Everything. This gospel gives us emotional freedom as well. I run into people now and then who are living on a treadmill of sorts, always wondering if they have done enough to keep all the rules. Am I doing the right things? Does God love me? If I die today, will I go to heaven? I’m not sure because I haven’t been a very good Christian. What an awful slavery to live under!

Like Paul, let me help you. In Christ you are forgiven and you belong to Him. Hang onto this message.

A book written by Jon Krakauer, “Into Thin Air” tells the true story of a team of people who tried to climb Mount Everest in the spring of 1996. The adventure ended up being a deadly, tragic experience. Many of them died. Andy Harris, one of the expedition leaders, was one of them. He stayed too long at the peak of Everest. It was getting dark when he traveled back down the mountain by himself, his oxygen was running out, and he became disoriented. So he radioed base camp and told them he had found a cache of empty oxygen containers. They radioed back that the containers were not empty but were there for him. He should take one and breathe in the oxygen. But he refused to believe them and ended up losing his life.

Jesus stands before us today with His gospel message. Here is life. Here is the oxygen canister you need for life. It is the gospel of grace. Breathe it in and live.