By Simon ManchesterSunday 26 Jan 2014Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 0 minutes
St Thomas’ Anglican Church
Galatians – 3:1-14
We need the Letter. We need to get it,as I say,under our belt so that we will give Christ the honour that he deserves. We will enjoy the security of the gospel and we will avoid the walls and the divisions that easily come up in a church when certain people start acting to what Christ has done.
You will see therefore that this Galatian problem is not the classic pagan problem. The classic pagan problem is – ‘if I am good,I’ll go to heaven’. This is not the Galatian problem. The Galatian problem – this is a church fellowship problem and is ‘I trust Christ for salvation,yes,but in case it’s not enough I am going to seal the deal and I am going to do some ritual or some ceremony or some extras or some deeds or some giving which will lock God in’ – that’s the Galatian heresy.
Or in the world of the 1st Century Galatian Christians – ‘I am going to become a true son of Abraham by taking the ritual of circumcision’. And Luther says “Let nobody think they are immune from this heresy”. Just as our sinful nature moves towards unbelief,and it does,our sinful nature moves towards self improvement which is of course in the area of salvation is impossible.
You imagine some parents who want their children to be secure. They want to make sure that their son or their daughter lives in the liberty of their family but they discover that their son or daughter is so insecure that their thinking goes like this:-
“I know in theory my parents love me,but I think it will turn into reality if I succeed. I think if I win or get the grade or a really good all day,then the love my parents have for me will kick in and I will be really secure”.
That of course is a terrible way for a child to grow up and a terrible reflection on the parents.
So Paul is at pains in Galatians to re-state the gospel because it brings the security to the believers and it brings praise to God. And what we have seen so far in our series is – this is our 4th Sunday –
We saw in (Week 1) the shock of the Apostle Paul – that the Galatians would turn away from grace to works.
We then saw him (Week 2) establish his authority so that he can speak to the subject.
And then we saw him (Week 3) actually correct Peter,Peter the disciple – that’s how dangerous and sinister this heresy is – it can even trick somebody like Peter.
And what he going to do today in Chapter 3 is he is going to show eternal life comes by believing and it cannot be improved on.
Just one more illustration – think for example of a baby being born into the physical world. Think of a baby being born – let’s think of a baby – let’s call him George – just for the sake of argument.
The baby arrives in the physical world and normally everything is there.
The life is there and the baby is there.
You don’t need to go looking for life.
You don’t need to go looking for parts for the baby.
You don’t need to do something to prolong the life.
It’s got the life.
Of course the baby needs to mature and develop but the life is there.
When it comes to eternal life,every believer has eternal life by believing. It cannot be improved by achieving. Of course we must mature and we must develop but we cannot,as it were,improve on the life we have received.
And so Paul has 2 points in the chapter that has just been read to us – Chapter 3 – verses 1-14.
Verses 1-7 he argues from experience. What happened to you? How did you come alive? How did that take place? We don’t normally argue from experience but the Apostle Paul does.
The second argument in verses 8-14 is an argument from Scripture. How has God always worked? – Let’s go back to Abraham. He’s always worked by believing.
So let’s think about these two points this morning – The Argument from Experience – chapter 3:1-7 – Eternal life comes by believing.
Look at chapter 3 verse 1 “Foolish Galatians”. J.B. Phillips translation – “Dear idiot Galatians” !!
Who has tricked you?
Who has bewitched you?
Who has cast a spell on you?
He’s not attacking them because they are unable to think – that would be a terrible thing to do but he’s attacking them because they are refusing to think. And he says again in chapter 3 verse 1 “I presented Christ crucified to you” and the word is literally “I bill-boarded him – I placarded him – I screened him for you – I screened Christ crucified for you”.
And the point that he making is not that he presented a crucifix because that’s not very clear – he didn’t play the Film – The Passion of the Christ – because that doesn’t tell you enough. He showed them the significance of why Christ died. He explained the death of Christ so well to them that they realised that Christ had achieved the salvation completely. And so they had only to receive it. He made it so clear that Christ had paid everything that they realised there was nothing to do but to take it.
And his question in verse 2 is therefore very interesting –
“When did the Spirit come?”
Did the Spirit come as a reward for obedience?
Did God look down and see you turn up at church and turn up and turn up and turn up and when you got to a thousand – he said – OK I give in,I’ll give you salvation?
Or did he give you the Spirit when you believed what Jesus had done?
And the obvious answer is the 2nd. I hope the answer for you is exactly the same. Salvation never comes as a reward. It comes when we humbly receive.
So what was it that led to your re-birth? There are quite a number of people here this morning and I imagine that the majority (I would love it to be everybody) but I imagine the majority have experienced the re-birth,the conversion,the change,the transformation that comes through Christ. What caused that?
At the basics,it was when you hearing or listening or maybe reading what Christ has done and you believed it. So salvation is not something that happens accidentally to you like catching the flu. Nor is salvation something that happens like a religious reward system where you put in your religion like a coke machine and eventually you get salvation out. Salvation is hearing that Christ has done the work and realising that he has done what we could never do and receiving it.
It’s like being offered 2 business class tickets to the other side of the world with no strings attached. I know somebody who has just been offered 2 business class tickets to the other side of the world with no strings attached. What do you do in the face of that? Well you could negotiate about how you could pay and earn but actually it is to be received.
So Paul’s point is – if you began like that – if life came by believing – if the Spirit came by believing without your performance,what makes you now think that performance will secure the life? If the life came to you freely through Christ,do you think you can buy its preservation? Impossible.
I wonder how you would answer the questions which are in chapter 3 verses 2-5. I will just paraphrase some of them for you and see what you would say this morning. I hope as you sit as an individual in the seat this morning,you just might think how you would answer this chapter 3 verse 2 –
How did God’s Spirit come to you?
Did it come as a trophy?
Or did it come as a gift?
Chapter 3 verse 3 –
Do you think this new life that God has given you needs to be secured by you?
Is it kind of like a log fire that you are going to have to solve?
Or is it an electrical fire which he will solve?
Chapter 3 verses 4-5 –
Have your experiences as a Christian (the difficult experiences because you are a Christian and the wonderful experiences because you are a Christian) have they been conditional on your behaviour? Or are they actually the signs that God has given you eternal life? – And it’s because he has given you eternal life.
You may incidentally not have a lot of exciting things to say about your Christianity. Some people become Christians imperceptibly. I don’t mean that they become Christians accidentally but they hear,they hear,they hear and they are never quite sure when that new life began. And maybe you don’t have anything exciting to say about your Christian life. You will see in verse 5 that the Galatians had some miracles take place among them. Well you may not feel that any miracles have taken place. I’m not sure that I do. You may not feel as though you have been massively transformed.
You may not feel as though you are not very successful or victorious or even perfect –
but I hope you can say that Christ has changed you.
I hope that you can say that he has changed your thinking,
And I hope that you can say that you value Him above all else. It may not be that you have had a magical experience but it should be a real experience.
You remember the story of the unbeliever who is mocking the believer – and the unbeliever says to the believer – ‘you don’t believe in all that water to wine stuff,do you?’ And the believer says ‘actually I’ve never seen water turned into wine myself but I have experienced beer turned into furniture’. That’s the transformation,isn’t it? What was a really stupid life has now become a thankful life.
And that’s because God does change us. We can’t improve our security but we can improve our maturity. And when we see the cross of Christ is big – and that’s what the Apostle Paul did – he placarded the cross of Christ BIG and the ritual of circumcision – nothing. That’s where you rejoice and when some ritual gets placarded,some performance,and the cross of Christ neglected,that’s where all the troubles begin. And he says in verses 6 & 7 “even Abraham received this new life by believing”. So if you want to be one of Abraham’s true children,true descendants,and true offspring – be a believer and nothing can steal that life – nothing can improve that life. The cross which has been explained to you that Jesus did it so that you can receive it – that cross is going to be your security from the start to the finish.
I’ll give you a graphic illustration of this – if you are a little bit of a Pharisee (there’s a little bit of Pharisee in all of us) you won’t like this story but I read it in a book written by a very,very godly Christian leader and he says this:-
As a very young Christian I was in Indianapolis passing out tracts just outside a striptease show. The show’s billboard caught my eye and soon I was seated on the third row watching the show. Within a few minutes a rush of emotion hit me. I realised where I was – the evangelist’s pockets stuffed with tracts. I ran from the club to the bus station nearby and into a phone booth. I called out to God – “O God” I pleaded “forgive me,forgive me”.
I didn’t feel forgiven but I knew his promise to forgive us if we ask and some minutes later I told myself ‘I am forgiven’ – thank you Lord and I left the phone booth.
But after the forgiveness comes the condemnation – ‘God can’t use you – you’ve failed him’. Before I could say anything,a man walked up to me and I expected him to ask for the time or directions to the bus but he started telling me his troubles and in a few moments he asked ‘how can I be saved?’
Within an hour we knelt by the War Memorial in Indianapolis and he surrendered his life to Jesus Christ. I couldn’t make up such a good story.
But that’s the cross,isn’t it?
It saves you when you are unworthy.
It sustains you when you are unworthy.
It brings you home because you are unworthy.
Well that’s the argument from experience. Paul says ‘you began by believing,you can’t improve on that. Even Abraham believed’.
Now the second argument is from Scripture (verses 8-14) – this is the new life always came by believing. This section introduces a very serious fork. I don’t know if you noticed as it was being read for us? But one part of the fork involves moving to human contributions to salvation and the Apostle says the consequences are worse that you could ever imagine – that is the path of God’s curse.
The other part of the fork involves no human contribution – trust in Christ for salvation – and the consequences,says Paul,are even better than you could possibly believe – the curse is removed and the blessing has come.
There are 6 quotes from the Old Testament in these verses telling us that Paul is dealing with people who know their Bibles. And reading between the lines I think this is what probably happened. That the heretics had come into Galatia and they had taken these new believers and they said to them ‘look I want to show you something,let’s go to Genesis 17 and you will see that Abraham had to have this circumcision ritual and if you want to be a true blue son of Abraham then you are going to need to add this ritual’. I suspect that’s what is happening.
The Apostle Paul,if you look at verse 6 takes them 2 chapters back to Genesis 15 and he says ‘No,Abraham received God’s favour,God’s fellowship,Abraham received righteousness on the day he believed – you cannot improve on that.’ The gospel of believing goes right back to Abraham and it goes right on until the final day.
Maybe friends,there is somebody here this morning and you think to yourself that faith is a kind of a work. You say to yourself ‘somewhere out there in the wider world there are people who are thinking if I am good and I work hard at being good,I’ll go to glory’. And in the church you have got people who are working hard at their faith,screwing themselves up to get some faith so that they can go to glory and you’ve got working and working.
But faith is not a work.
Faith is giving up on the work.
Faith is where you turn to Christ and you say ‘over to you,you are the saviour,you paid the price,you saved me – I’m yours’.
And the Bible says at that moment he takes you as his and he is committed to you for your salvation.
He will make it happen.
He will make the forgiveness happen.
He will make the fellowship happen.
He will make the future happen.
But if the Christian moves away from this and foolishly or tragically thinks – well salvation will only work if I improve it – you see in verses 10-11 – you move away from blessing – you move into the law programme – if you move into the law programme,it’s got to be a perfect law programme,because you’ve moved away from Christ as saviour,you have moved to yourself as saviour,you are going to have to be a perfect law keeper and actually God’s curse will fall on you for failure.
We know the non-Christian has got no idea how dangerous it is to think ‘Do It Yourself’ salvation. The cartoons in the paper,the person dies,- there they are at the Pearly Gates walking though because they have been a good bloke. No unbeliever really understands that that Do It Yourself salvation cannot work but is it possible that Christians make the mistake of thinking that they need to build on to what Christ has done for their salvation and move into to Do It Yourself. And I want you,friends,to be alert to when the cross in the church is downplayed and the rituals and the obediences and the rules are up-played because that’s when we will drift dangerously.
If you want to know why there is no curse for the person who fails to obey (like me) but trusts Christ,you will see in verse 13 it’s because Christ took the curse. In fact,he became the curse. It isn’t as if God just cursed him or swore at him,but Christ became the curse.
Luther says in his commentary “that God said to his son,as he died,
you’re Peter,the denier,
you’re Paul the persecutor,
you’re David the adulterer,
you’re Adam the instigator,
you’re the thief on the cross,
you’re the sins of all of them
and you will be what they deserve.
He became the curse.
And the consequence of him taking the curse away is that the blessing of God comes to the believer and the blessing of God that comes to the believer (verse 14) is the Spirit of God and if you think the Spirit of God is a placebo or a consolation prize,the Spirit of God that comes to you. You can’t do better than have God’s life come to you. No wonder Paul is excited about this.
So here are some things for us to learn as we finish this morning. What does the Apostle Paul say? He said – salvation is by believing – and it’s always been like that.
Now friends,here are some things to remember.
First of all,we know that people in the world drift all over the place. The danger is when believers drift. When the non issue becomes your billboard. What is it when in front of you,like a billboard,occupying your brain? Because it’s when the cross becomes the billboard,you see your security.l
The second thing is,Abraham believed when there was nothing to do but believe. There was no circumcision to perform. There was no law. There were no 10 Commandments. There was no church rule book. There was no Catholic tradition. There was no Protestant Pray Book. There were no Pentecostal extras. There were just the promises of God. And that’s what Abraham believed.
And this is the scandal of real Christianity – that a person can believe and be saved because a part of us (like the world) says ‘that’s just too simple’. But what we don’t realise is that when we believe in Christ,his Spirit comes to us and he changes us in a way that no rule book could.
And then the third thing to learn from this is that this is a gospel for the nations (verse 8). This is for the nations – that’s why we are not ashamed to take the gospel to any country and any culture in the world because every person in the world needs the gospel of believing. This gospel,this Christian message is not some kind of English Western waspish cricket game that you can take or leave. This is a crucial,vital and essential message.
And if Abraham was being taken seriously by the Jews and the Christians and the Muslims around the world,they would throw away all their barriers,all their extras,all their books,all their rule books. They would throw them all away because they would say – ‘let’s be like Abraham – he believed’. He believed the promises of God – he believed the grace of God and you will find that in Christ.
And the last thing to say is that I want to remind you that Christ became the curse for you so that you might receive the blessing of God.
I was thinking about this as I was driving. I was trying to think this through for myself because I get tired of the doctrine. I get familiar with it and I get stale. And I thought to myself – I remembered a movie once of a parent who went to jail for their child. I thought – that’s incredible.
Imagine a parent going to jail for life for the child.
Imagine a parent going to execution for the child.
You couldn’t quickly forget that.
Imagine a man going to execution for another evil man.
Imagine a man going to execution for a hostile man.
And when you think that the King of Glory came and went to all of that for us,we can’t actually find parallels for what he has done. Who he is or what he has done. But it would be wonderful,wouldn’t it,if against the trend of forgetting this,or knowing this too much as to really care about it,it would be wonderful if God caused it to filter through so that we felt it and then everything else would look little. And he would be seen to be wonderful.