We need Paul’s letter to the Galatians so that we will give Christ the honour he deserves, and to enjoy the security of the gospel, and avoid the walls and divisions that easily come up in a church when people start adding to what Christ has done.
You’ll see this Galatian problem is not the classic pagan problem. The classic pagan problem is, if I’m good, I’ll go to heaven. This is not the Galatian problem.
The Galatian problem is, “I trust Christ for salvation,” yes, “but in case it’s not enough, I’m going to seal the deal and I’m 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. In the world of the 1st Century Galatian Christians, “I’m going to become a true son of Abraham by taking the ritual of circumcision.”
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 impossible.
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 discovered 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 I’m 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. Paul is at pains in Galatians to reinstate the gospel because it brings the security to the believers and it brings praise to God.
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What we’ve seen so far in our series…this is our fourth Sunday.
We saw in week 1 the shock of the apostle Paul that the Galatians would turn away from grace to law. We then saw him establish his authority so that he can speak to the subject, and then we saw him actually correct Peter, the disciple. That’s how dangerous and sinister this heresy is. It can even trick somebody like Peter. And what’s he’s going to do today in chapter 3 is he’s going to show that 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 call him George just for the sake of argument. The baby arrives in the physical world, and usually, 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 life. It’s got life. Of course, the baby needs to mature and to 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 enhance on the life we’ve received.
So Paul has two points in the chapter. First in verse 1-7. He argues from experience, “What happened to you? How did you come alive? How did that take place?” We don’t usually 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 this morning. First of all, the argument from experience 3:1-7, “Eternal life comes by believing.”
Look at 3:1, “Foolish Galatians.” J.B. Phillips translation, “Dear, idiot Galatians. Who’s tricked you? Who’s bewitched you? Who’s cast a spell on you?” He’s not attacking them because they’re unable to think. That would be a terrible thing to do. He’s attacking them because they are refusing to think. And he says again 3:1, “I presented Christ crucified to you,” and the word is literally, “I billboarded him. I placarded him. I screamed him for you. I screamed Christ crucified for you.” And the point that he’s making is not that he presents it 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 fascinating, when did the spirit come? Did the spirit come as a reward for obedience? Did God look down and see you turn up a church and turn up and turn up and turn up? And when you got to a thousand, he said, “Okay, 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 second. I hope the answer for you is exactly the same. Salvation never comes as a reward. It happens when we humbly receive.
So what was it that led to your rebirth? There’s many people here this morning, and I imagine that the majority have experienced the rebirth, the conversion, the change, the transformation that comes through Christ.
What caused that? At the basics, it was when you were 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 coat machine, and eventually, you get salvation out.
Salvation is hearing that Christ has done the work, and realising that he’s done what we could never do, and receiving it. It’s like being offered two business class tickets to the other side of the world with no strings attached. I know somebody who’s just been offered two business class tickets to the other side of the world with no strings attached. What do you in the face of that? Well, you could negotiate how you could pay and earn, but actually, it’s 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 life came to you freely through Christ, do you think you can buy its preservation? Impossible. I wonder how would you answer the questions which are in 3:2-5. I’ll 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 might just think how you would answer this;
How did God’s spirit come to you? Did it come as a trophy or did it come as a gift? Did He come as a gift?
Do you think this new life that God has given you needs to be secured by you? Is it kind of a log fire that you’re going to have to solve, or is it an electrical fire which he will solve?
Have your experiences as a Christian, the painful experiences because you’re a Christian, and the wonderful experiences because you’re 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’s 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, and they’re never quite sure when that new life began.
Maybe you don’t have anything exciting to say about your Christian life. You’ll see in verse 5, the Galatians had some miracles take place among them. While you may not feel that any miracles have taken place, I’m not sure that I do, you may not feel as though you’ve been massively transformed. You may not feel as though you’re now very successful or victorious or even perfect, but I hope you can say that Christ has changed you.
I hope you can say that he’s changed your thinking, your direction, your foundation, your hope, your destination, and I hope you that you can say that you value him above all else. It may not be that you’ve had a magical experience, but it should be a real experience.
You remember the story of the unbeliever who’s 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. That’s because God does change us. We can’t improve our security, but we can improve our maturity. When we see the cross of Christ is big, and that’s what the apostle Paul did, he placarded the cross of Christ as 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.
Even Abraham received this new life by believing. So, if you want to be one of Abraham’s true children, true descendants, 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 start to finish.
I’ll give you a graphic illustration of this. If you’re a little bit of a Pharisee, there’s a bit of Pharisee in all of us, you won’t like this story, but I read it in a book written by a 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 in the third row watching the show. Within a few minutes, a rush of emotion hit me. I realised where I was. The evangelist, pockets stuffed with tracts.
I ran from the club to the bus station nearby and into a phone booth. I called out to God, “Oh, 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 failed him. Before I could say anything, a man walked up to me. I expected him to ask for the time or direction 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’re unworthy. It sustains you when you’re unworthy. It brings you home because you’re 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 from scripture is a 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 work involves moving to human contributions to salvation, and the apostle says the consequences are worse than 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 is even better than you could possibly believe. The curse is removed, and the blessing has come.
There are six 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’d taken these new believers, and they’d said to them, “Look, I want to show you something. Let’s go to Genesis 17, and you’ll see that Abraham had to have the circumcision ritual. And if you want to be a true, blue son of Abraham, then you’re going to need to add this ritual.”
I suspect that’s what was happening.
The apostle Paul takes them two chapters back to Genesis 15. And he says, now, 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, there’s somebody here this morning, and you think to yourself that faith is a kind of a work. You know, you said it yourself, somewhere out there in the wider world, some people are thinking if I’m good and I work hard at being good. I’ll go to glory. And in the church, you’ve 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 isn’t a work. Faith is giving up on the work. Faith is where you turn to Christ and you say, “Over to you. You’re the saviour. You paid the price. You saved me. I’m yours.”
And the bible says that, at that moment, he takes you as his and he’s 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 walk into the law program. If you move into the law program, it’s got to be a perfect law program. Because you’ve moved away from Christ, the saviour, you’ve moved yourself a saviour, you’re 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 through because they’ve 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 what Christ has done for their salvation and move into do-it-yourself?
I want you friends, to be alert to when the cross in the church is downplayed, and the rituals, and the obedience, 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’ll 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 the blessing of God comes to the believer and the blessing of God that comes to the believer is the spirit of God. And if you think the spirit of God is a placebo or a consolation prize, the spirit of God is God comes to you. You can’t do better than have God’s life come to you. No wonder Paul’s excited about this.
So here are some things for us to learn as we finish this morning. What did 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 which is in front of you like a billboard occupying your brain? Because it’s when the cross becomes the billboard. You see your security.
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 Ten Commandments. There was no church rulebook. There was no Catholic tradition. There was no protestant prayer book. There were no Pentecostal extras. They were just the promises of God, and that’s what he believed.
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 realize is that when we believe in Christ his spirit comes to us and he changes us in a way that no rule book could.
The third thing to learn from this is that this is a gospel for the nations. This is the for the nations. That’s why we’re 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 cricket game that you can take or leave. This is a crucial, vital, and essential message. 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 the way 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’ll find that in Christ.”
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 is 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. I thought to myself, “I remember the 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.
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’s done, ho he is, or what he’s 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.