Change through Freedom, Freedom through the Gospel
- David Fairchild
- Nov 26, 2006
- Series: Galatians
Galatians 5:1-12: "For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. 2 Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. 4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. 5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. 7 You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? 8 This persuasion is not from him who calls you. 9 A little leaven leavens the whole lump. 10 I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view than mine, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. 11 But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. 12 I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!"
As we near the end of the year it is usually customary that we take some time and revisit our vision and mission at Kaleo. As we grow as leaders of the church and as our church grows in size and maturity, it's good that we reassess where we are and what we believe God has called us to as a gathering of His people.
At the beginning of the year I'll probably preach a "state of our church" address and put forth what we have been praying about as leaders of the church and what we believe is our call and emphasis over 2007. In the Old Testament, there were times when God called Israel to renew its covenant with Him. Essentially what God was calling them to was a fresh commitment to the call He had on His people so that they were reminded of the faithfulness of their God and the life of living as lights to this world as a testimony to other nations of God's goodness, holiness and glory.
The basic theme this morning as we continue in Galatians really is not all that different than what God called His people to in the Old Testament.
What we are going to be looking at is a powerful passage that gives us a declared truth that we are to see our lives and beliefs conform to His by His grace. We are going to be speaking about how we actually go about changing as a people. Now, we have spent a great deal of time working through what the Gospel is and what it is not. We have looked at a variety of examples over the last six months of the various distortions of the Gospel and how easy it is for us to disbelieve the Gospel by looking at how we grow purely in terms of our own efforts and moral performance. With that said, I've been waiting to get to the latter two chapters of Galatians since these remaining points of Paul have some really practical application for our lives. In other words, we're beginning to look now at how things actually happen, rather than just speaking of what the Gospel is. Or, in other words, as we learn the Gospel, how does it go about actually changing us and in what ways can we personally apply the Gospel to our lives so that we see deep and lasting change?
The main concern I have this morning is to show you that we, "change through freedom, and have freedom through the Gospel."
This morning I'm not going to get into working the passage. I'm going to take my normal introduction and preach it this morning and then we can get into the text next week. This week I want to simply offer some thoughts on how we change from the main point of this passage. Okay, so how do we change? This seems to be a pretty common question from many of you that have begun to see the depth of the Gospel and look at it with greater appreciation. This is a good question and it's been hard not giving too much in the last few weeks since I knew we were going to land here soon.
I mentioned that we're revisiting the vision and mission of our church, and though this isn't technically a message where I'm breaking from Galatians to do that, the point of the passage certainly is something that we feel as a church must stay at the center of any hope for our growth and maturity in Christ and for the city to meet this Messiah who both saves us and changes us into vessels for His glory. Feel free to count this as a part of our vision since we believe there is no other way for us to grow than to understand how we are to go about it.
This last year we have been a broken record as we've been saying in a variety of ways that Gospel transformation is different than moral reformation.
The Gospel actually transforms you and me from the inside out, rather than trying to change you from the outside in by will power and moral reformation. The importance of this bombshell of a truth cannot be overstated. It is really a life-altering and world-changing truth that needs to be recaptured and communicated from our pulpits, in our home fellowships, and in any evangelistic effort we attempt as the church.
Richard Lovelace makes the point by using the example of bent iron. He says that there are two ways to straighten a bent rod of iron. One way, through purely external power and force, is to bend the iron rod until it's straight again. But the truth of iron is that if you succeed in bending the iron back, instead of being as strong or stronger, it is actually weaker where you bent it. Even if it looks visually straight, it will be prone to break if it is bent again in the same area. The fibers of the iron are broken inside and by this physical exertion it is now unstable and susceptible to snapping in two. But if you put this iron in fire until it glows from the inside, in that fire as the fibers are transformed from the inside, you can shape and transform the iron and make it straighter than ever and stronger than ever. It becomes tempered because of the fire and is able to withstand even the physical forces that attempt to bend it and make it crooked.
This is the difference between Gospel transformation and moral reformation. If you've grown up in a dysfunctional or abusive home, if you've been hurt and are wounded, through sheer will power and moral exertion you can change yourself. If someone has bent you, you can will yourself to bend back so that you appear to be straight and strong. Spiritual disciplines, behavior modification, accountability groups and other ways of changing help bend you back by influence and outside force.
Or, through the Gospel, you can see your heart plunged into the fire of the One who made you and calls you to Himself. The Spirit of God is the Spirit of the One who made you and is infinitely more powerful than you are. By the Gospel of His grace, as the Spirit causes it to heat your heart, you will glow from the inside and there will be a fire that will soften you and sweeten you. When you have that kind of understanding and experience of the Gospel, you'll be malleable and pliable so that you'll be changed, not by His rough outward force, but by the gentle hands of the master blacksmith. This will cause your life to be incredibly strong and tempered so that it you'll be able to resist the attempts of other forces that wish to bend you and weaken you.
You will be organically changed because Gospel transformation is the complete opposite of moral reformation.
C.S. Lewis said this in his book Mere Christianity, in the chapter titled "Nice People or New Men?" In it he writes:
In a world of nice people, looking no further than that, would be just as desperately in need of salvation as the miserable world and more difficult to save, for mere improvement is not redemption, though in the end redemption will improve you to a degree that you can't even imagine. God became man to turn creatures into sons, not simply to produce better kinds of the old creature, but to produce a new kind of person. It is not like teaching a horse to jump better and better, but more like turning a horse into a winged creature which is a whole new kind of being altogether.
It's hard to add to that. Gospel transformation is much different than moral reformation. When the Gospel comes into your life and you learn the Gospel and begin to understand the Gospel, it becomes real to you and it makes you a more loving person, a more gracious person, more tolerant and courageous, more honest and more faithful. It changes you and makes you a person that looks more and more like Christ.
But as we stress that there is now no condemnation for you because of what Christ has done for you, and your sins can never separate you from the God who saved you through the death and resurrection of His Son, now your acceptance with God is absolutely complete because you're saved not by what you've done, but what He's done-not by your performance but by His performance. And as a result of purely believing by faith in what He's done, you realize that the level of performance or lack of, the level of repentance, the level of assurance, the level of your purity or lack of doesn't count one bit and you are only saved by what Christ has done for you. It's a free gift that comes to you to set you free and it comes to you now to believe.
The question that is on everyone's lips but only a few are brave enough to ask is, "How in the world does this create a holy and godly life? How does this actually change how you act and live?" How is it possible a person will be changed by telling someone that no matter what they do that God loves them in Christ? Wouldn't that lead people to begin to think they can do whatever they want if they think that whatever they do won't separate them from God?
If the fear of losing your relationship with God is gone, and you lose all motivation to live a holy and changed life, then the only motivation you had to change was not love but pure fear.
How does this kind of Gospel create change in your life? Not just generally, but specifically how does it change us? These are all good questions and this is what we're looking at this week and next week.
Let me use an example: If you have children who are thinking about going to college, you may find that when your kids are in high school and looking at being accepted into a university they will work like mad to get their grades up and keep them up while they apply to various schools. But once they are accepted by a college that they wish to attend, usually their last semester's grades drop. A's become B's, B's become C's, and so on. And if you ask your son or daughter why this is the case, more than likely they'll say something like, "I'm already accepted, so these grades don't really matter. I can't fail my classes, but I don't need to keep up my performance because it won't make a difference since I'm already in."
Now, this seems to be common sense. If you're already in and nothing you can do will cause you to be rejected, what motivation is there to pursue excellence? How is this an incentive for sacrifice or discipline? To be fully accepted seems to work against these other things and distorts them. How can a principle that seems common sense actually be different in the Christian life? Why would this work with God?
There is a common approach to God that is really popular but from the perspective of the Gospel, misguided at best.
The way many pastors answer this problem is by telling us that it's true that if you talk about being fully accepted by grace you'll end up with a congregation that is fully of lazy and apathetic people. They'll have no incentive to press on. These pastors believe that if you constantly preach that we're accepted no matter what we've done or will do, then of course it will lead to laziness. In their view what needs to happen is to teach and preach a balance. We need to tell people what they need to do and preach the law more often or you'll end up with imbalanced people. Balance is the key in this kind of thinking.
Now, obviously this is popular. In a world that has been so influenced by eastern philosophy, it's no wonder we talk about balance all the time. It's sort of like our Christian yin and yang doctrine. In this view it isn't wise to talk about faith and grace too much; we should speak about moral living and the ten commandments just as much as we do faith and grace. However, this is an incorrect interpretation of what changes us and motivates us to change.
Take Galatians for example; what is it all about? The false teachers are telling these young converts that they need to meet up to expectations so that they can be fully justified and live healthy lives that are filled with works and keeping of the rules. Paul spends the first four chapters teaching against this.
However, when we read Paul's letters to the various churches, he does teach about faithfulness in marriage and not committing adultery, he does teach about charity and good works, and Paul most certain does teach on sin and warns against it. It isn't that this is absent from his teaching and these things are not mentioned.
The main difference is not striking a balance between the two-law and works vs. faith and grace-it's the relationship to these things that is most important.
Paul says the reason for your obedience is everything! The false teachers most certainly taught that Jesus was the Messiah and that you needed to have faith in Him. It isn't that they spoke about works and Paul spoke about faith; they both did. Paul speaks about works and how we should live frequently, and the false teachers spoke about the importance of faith in Christ. The difference was how they viewed their reasons for doing these things.
Why are you obedient? Why do you get up and pray? Why do you resist temptation when it is put before you? These things are very good, but why do you do them? Paul shows us that the "why" is everything.
Paul is showing us the difference between two religions and two kinds of people based purely upon the motivation for why they do what they do. This creates two different worldviews, two different personalities with totally different results in the character of the person. It isn't just a matter of balance, it's not that we shouldn't preach obedience to God or should preach it all the time. The difference is what is being preached as the reason and motivation for it.
Listen to what Paul says in Titus 2:
Titus 2:11-15: "For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. 15 Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you."
This is it! What is Paul saying? He's saying that the Gospel has come and it has brought salvation already, not just to come, and this Gospel of grace teaches us about turning from sinful lusts and ungodliness, and to live self-controlled lives that are upright and godly. And then Paul speaks about the Gospel hope for our future and it teaches us that we should declare these things and exhort and rebuke with all authority. But what are we to teach on with all authority? Because of what Christ has done, because the Gospel of grace has come, we now are to live lives that are zealous and eager to do good works. The point of this is the motivation for why we're to do what we are to do.
There are 11 main issues at the church of Corinth and Paul writes a letter to them correcting them in their errors of action and thought. But Paul answers every problem with the Gospel. He constantly goes back to the Gospel to show them that they have misunderstood and do not really believe in what Christ has done. He reminds them over and over in different ways to show them that everything they are doing and teaching that is in error is ultimately answerable through what Christ has done for them.
You see, we need to ask ourselves why we are doing the good things we are doing or avoiding the bad things we are avoiding. Are we to just say no? Paul is teaching us that you need to discover why you're saying no. It's not enough to just say no, you need to find out why.
So, how does Paul teach us how to actually change?
First he speaks negatively: Paul shows us in verse 1 the wrong reason for moral obedience is bondage.
1- The wrong reason for moral obedience is bondage.
Verse 1: "For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery."
A few weeks ago I talked about this in chapter 4. What is so incredible about the word "again?"
What's so amazing is that the Galatians are being told by the false teachers that Christ is good but not enough to be fully accepted. They're teaching that you need to obey the whole law in order to be saved.
The problem is that the Galatians never obeyed the law of God before; they didn't even know it. They were Pagan converts to Christ. How do we know that? Because they had never been circumcised before and were being persuaded by the false teachers to get circumcised. They never obeyed the Bible, they were buck wild having drunken feasts and the most debauched kinds of sex you could imagine. They had a terrible view of human life and were never pressured to live the ways in which the Jews lived.
What is so incredible is that Paul looks at their past life of cruelty and selfishness and he tells them that if they obey God for the reasons the false teachers are telling them they should (to procure favor with God), they are going back into slavery like they were when they never knew of God or His law. He says they are going back again to slavery. He shows them they would be no better off and no closer to God.
Most people assume that to be a Christian is to be called away from debauchery and loose living into a virtuous life that is morally sparkling. This is what people think when you ask them if they would like to be a Christian. They think it's to be a more moral person. Paul is saying that this is not what Christianity is at all. In Paul's thinking, this is no different than slavery if your motivation is to just have a moral reformation. Paul sees this as an utter failure. Then why is it that the majority of non-Christians think this is what it means to be Christian? Because this is the message we are sending! This is how we think about the Gospel and it is an error that is no different than what the Galatians converts were facing. We are the Pagans who were converted. Unless you were Jewish, you and I are the Galatians who are being called into moral reformation by our teachers and not Gospel transformation.
It is a dangerous thing to do this since Paul sees this as antithetical to Christianity. And if the motivation is to just be a good person doing good works because it's the right thing to do and not because we are changed from the inside out, we are worshipping a different god through a distorted gospel. We are not worshipping the God of grace who calls us to Him solely by faith and who changes us within so that we desire to do what we do because we are motivated by the Gospel of grace out of love. To live any other way, in Paul's thinking, is to go back into slavery. Paul is calling us to freedom!
Don't you see that the Galatians who came from a Pagan background are more akin to liberals in our day and the false teachers are more like conservatives in our day? One had a low view of law, human life and was sexually promiscuous, the other had a high view of the law, morality, human life, and were more conservative in their ethics. Paul is showing that the false teachers were nothing more than conservatives that were calling the liberals to become conservative. Paul says whether you're a liberal or a conservative, there is really no difference because both are no better off before God, since both are slavery. If your motivation is to become conservative for reasons other than the Gospel of grace out of love, you are nothing more than a slave. C.S. Lewis says that you'll probably be more difficult to save because you'll think you have no need of a savior since your life is already morally reformed and you've become nice instead of new.
If you decide to obey the law of God for the wrong reasons, you'll become burdened and will find yourself chained again and instead of tasting freedom, you'll feel constricted and enslaved. Why?
Well, if you came from a Pagan background like the Galatians, they worshipped different and various gods depending upon what they wanted. If they were fisherman, they worshipped the god of the sea, if they wanted to get pregnant they would worship the fertility god, if they were soldiers they worshipped the military god. They were worshipping all these different gods and they were in slavery. Why? Because if you worship anything finite like beauty, your job, your things, your kids or your money, you will always be burdened and enslaved. Why? Because circumstance will always come crashing in on you. If circumstances threaten the thing you're living for, you'll be in fear of losing the most important thing in your life. If circumstances block the thing you're living for, you'll be filled with anger because you're being kept from the thing you worship most. And if you fail through your own performance or stupidity, you'll want to die because you'll be burdened with guilt and shame.
Paul is saying when you obey for the wrong reasons, you go right back to the same slavery because you'll go back to being proud and arrogant or in total guilt and shame. When circumstances keep you from what you really want, you'll be just as defensive, just as critical, just as arrogant, just as unloving, just as depressed, just as apathetic, just as suicidal, just as merciless, and so on. You'll be a slave just like you were before you claimed Christ as your Savior unless you see yourself changed from the inside out by grace. Don't you see that to live like this doesn't really require inward change? All you have done is bent yourself back by outward force and ultimately made yourself weaker.
Secondly, Paul speaks positively.
2- Paul shows us that there is another way by faith to change.
Verse 5: "For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love."
Here's what Paul is saying: Hope and love become new engines when you know God's love is for you.
Look at the word hope. The problem with this word in English is that it doesn't get across the meaning of the word in the Greek. In the Greek it means something that you're sure about. In English, it means something you wish were true.
The word hope means that you are sure that it is true. Verse 5 shows us that we are to be eager in our waiting for this sure thing. What is the sure thing? Our righteousness! You are truly righteous and it is a sure thing and it is something that you are banking on and that you're waiting to see demonstrated as you wait eagerly and surely.
Then Paul talks of circumcision and uncircumcision. What this mean? One is the picture of moralism and one is the picture of Paganism. Paul is saying that they both mean nothing!
If you did something right yesterday, it means nothing as it relates to your acceptability before God. God doesn't love you more because of what you've done. Also, it means that if you did something wrong yesterday, it doesn't change your acceptability before God and he doesn't love you less because of it. God's love is unchanging because your standing before Him is unchanging. In other words, your righteousness is sure.
We do what we do because God loves us. The only reason we do things is because God loves us not because we want God to love us.
When you fail, when you really blow it out of stupidity and selfishness, and you hear the voice, "what have you done?" you need to respond by saying, "No matter what I've done, it doesn't make a difference because God's love for me and my standing before Him is sure. That thing doesn't make me one bit less fit for His presence." If you do something great and you hear the voice saying, "look what you've done; you should be proud," you need to say to yourself, "I did that thing out of love because my Father loves me. That thing doesn't make me one bit for more fit for His presence."
It's what Christ has done that makes all the difference. His righteousness is given to me and now I know that my Father will always be my Father and I will always be His child and God is working in me to remind me of the hope, the surety of my righteousness and acceptability before Him.
Lastly, the only thing that counts is faith working through love: Charles Spurgeon story of the King and the carrot.