As we noted in our introduction… Galatians is Paul’s fighting Epistle. In the face of a creeping Gospel distortion making its way into these church communities, Paul pulls out parchment and quill and begins launching verbal hand grenades. Not only is he active in his defense of the Gospel, but Paul spares no time throwing his own haymakers.
By chapter 4 Paul has been as about as transparent as he could possibly be. He’s called these Galatians fools. He’s said they'd been bewitched. He’s even placed their slide into legalism as being on par with demon worship! Paul has not mixed words and here’s why… Galatians 4:11 Pauls tells them, “I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you in vain.”
The word “vain” in the Greek (“eikê”) means “without purpose or without success.” Eugene Peterson’s commentary “The Message” paraphrases this verse as “I am afraid that all my hard work among you has gone up in a puff of smoke!”
This is a radical statement for Paul is conceding that if the result of taking the Gospel into pagan lands was that these Gentiles would now fall into religious legalism then he would have completely waisted his time! His sacrifice, suffering, and hard work to bring the Gospel to Galatia would be for not if religion supplanted the Gospel!
Here’s why Paul feels this way… The move from paganism to religious moralism is vain because religion fundamentally fails to justify or sanctify a person before God. Literally, Paul’s saying if a person moves from being self-indulgent only to then become self-righteous that person is really no better off as their fundamental standing before God hasn’t changed. The implications of this are profound!
Think about what Paul is saying from an applicational viewpoint… Paul is equating the person engaged in immoral sexual actives outside of marriage as being no better off than the person who believes they are right with God because they abstain from such actives… He’s equating the person who uses fowl language as being no better off than the person who believes they are right with God because they abstain from such profanities… Equating the person who never goes to church as being no better off than the person who believes they are right with God because they faithfully attend every Sunday… Paul is equating the alcoholic as being no better off than the person who believes they are right with God because they abstain from drinking.
And why is this the case? As we’ve already noted in our time in Galatians, what a person does or doesn’t do has no fundamental baring on their right-standing before God.
This is key… The Bible tells us that human behavior is not the basis of a person’s righteousness or wickedness, but is instead the fruit of these things. You’re a sinner not because you sin. You sin because you’re a sinner. Therefore, you are righteous not because you do the right things. You do the right things because you’re righteous!
Religion fakes a life that only the Gospel can really provide. For example… If you’re dead painting up your face, combing your hair, saturating yourself in perfume, and putting on fresh clothes may create the facade of life, but it doesn’t change your present condition.
Isn’t it ironic the product we provide women who are experiencing the tragic effects of age, decay, and the gravitational force that’s pulling everything down so that they can still appear young and beautiful is called “make up!” Seriously, the entire idea is to present a made up persona that you’re younger and more beautiful than you actually are!
The goal of the Gospel isn’t necessarily focused on cleaning up the lives of filthy people or providing them some moralistic make up so that they’re presentable to God, but instead centers on bringing life to those who are dead through Christ Jesus!
Instead of behavioral modification (the aim of religion) the Gospel focuses on an internal transformation of one’s constitution. You see what a dead man needs more than anything if he’s going to avoid being buried under six feet of earth isn’t make up, but resurrection! And that my friend is only a work God can accomplish!
This morning before we get to our text I want you to know the power of the Gospel is that you can leave this place regardless of your present condition an entirely different person!
I’m not here to heap upon you some weight of condemnation… I’m sure you are already keenly aware how broken you are and if you’re not there’s little I can do for you anyway!
I’m not interested in peddling a set of religious do’s and don’ts geared towards making you a better person… Who cares if you stop drinking, turn straight, or quit sleeping with your girlfriend only for you to die and enter hell sober, heterosexual, and nookie deprived.
I have no interest in providing you a few antidotal life-pointers aimed at making you a better you… Honestly, there are much larger issues than becoming debt free, shedding those unwanted pounds, self-discovery, or learning to love yourself - which is no more a remedy to your emotional problems than masturbating (self-love) is to your marital ones.
Instead, (while we’ll see this morning that many things will promise a change they cannot provide) I can confidently say the Gospel message offers you a radical encounter with the resurrected Jesus who, if you’ll allow, is more than able to change everything!
Galatians 4:12, “Brethren, I urge you to become like me, for I became like you…”
“Brethren, I urge you…” Can’t you hear the change in Paul’s tone? Whereas for the last three and a half chapters he’s been bear knuckle brawling with these Galatians, he’s now pleading! This word “urge” or “deomai” literally means “to beg or plead passionately.” Note: As we’ll soon see no one pleads with people they don’t deeply care for!
What is Paul begging them to do? He says, “Become like me, for I became like you.” Keep in mind there had been a time when Paul had been exactly where these Galatians were heading. Paul had grown up in a religious culture under the law. His righteous standing before God had been based in his obedience; and yet, not only had he found himself miserable and sorely inadequate but encountering Jesus changed everything!
Philippians 3:4-9, “If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith…”
Paul is begging these Galatians to reject this legalistic lie he knew would only lead to greater bondage and to instead walk in the freedom he was currently enjoying in Jesus. Paul is saying, “I have been where you are! Come and be where I now am! COME TO FREEDOM!”
Galatians 4:12-13, “You have not injured me at all (“to act unjustly or to do hurt” - Paul is making it known he’s not speaking to them this strongly out of a deep hurt). You know that because of physical infirmity I preached the gospel to you at the first (According to Acts 13 Paul originally made his way to the higher altitudes of Galatia from the coastal regions of Perga because he had contracted a form of malaria)…”
Galatians 4:14-15, “And my trial (this physical infirmity which seems to have effected his eyes) which was in my flesh you did not despise or reject, but you received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus. What then was the blessing you enjoyed? For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out (“to dig out”) your own eyes and given them to me.”
Paul’s point in referring back to their first interactions was threefold: (1) God had acted in a natural way to supernaturally send Paul to Galatia. (2) Though in clear pain, Paul “preached the Gospel” out of love for the Galatians. (3) The Galatians had lovingly accepted not only Paul’s message, but Paul himself.
Galatians 4:16-18, “Have I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth? They zealously court you, but for no good; yes, they want to exclude you, that you may be zealous for them. But it is good to be zealous in a good thing always, and not only when I am present with you.”
After reminding these Galatians of their previous interactions and demonstrated love for one another, Paul now asks, “Have I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth?”
Speaking the truth, even when it was hard to hear, was not evidence that Paul no longer loved these Galatians or was in someway against them. In fact the opposite was true!
Understand… Real love is more interested in saying the hard truth than it is in keeping the peace, coddling emotions, or offending. Genuine love will even risk the relationship itself if the person’s well-being is at stake! You see Paul loved these Galatians enough to speak the truth even if it didn’t feel good or earn their approval.
Let me ask… Is church designed to always be a pleasant experience? If it is then I can promise whatever church you’re attending is not presenting the truth and in all likelihood you aren’t growing spiritually. I will also go out on a limb by figuring you won’t last at C316 long.
Can’t we all concede this morning the simple reality that there are truths about ourselves we don’t exactly want called out… Truths we’d prefer to ignore. And yet, if the Holy Spirit is working in your life - more interested in transforming you into the imagine of Jesus than coddling, then shouldn’t there be times when what you hear at church shouldn’t be pleasant?
More often than not the truth, especially when it’s about me, doesn’t feel good. It’s upsetting, sometimes offends, but is still something I need to hear if I’m going to grow! Consider… Why are you going to church? Is it to have your ears tickled and your lifestyle affirmed or do you come to hear the raw and honest truth even when it’s ugly, uncomfortable, and challenging?
Notice Paul contrasts his desire to speak the unsettling truth with the Jewish false teachers who were peddling this Anti-Gospel in Galatia. He says, “They zealously court you, but for no good; yes, they want to exclude you, that you may be zealous for them.”
This phrase “zealously court you” speaks of the motivation behind these teachers and the message they were preaching. The word means “to affect or woo.” It claims they were seeking to “win their favor.” Instead of speaking the truth which might offend, these men were framing their message in such a way that it would appeal to the largest audience possible.
How does legalism manifest in today’s churches? Aside from the obvious “Christians do this and they don’t do that” sermons you’ll find in many of todays churches legalism has masked itself under the more covert titles of “programs, initiatives, or campaigns.”
“90-Day Tithing Challenge…” Tithe 10% of your income for 90 days and if you don’t see God work in your life the church will refund your money. I found one church that even provides a Tithing Calculator on it’s website to help figure out 10% of your income.
“Operation Andrew…” Six weeks before “Bring a Friend Sunday” have everyone write the names of people they want to invite on their “Operation Andrew” cards. In the following weeks pray this simple prayer, “Open my eyes, open their hearts, open my mouth.”
“Porn-Free 30-Day Challenge…” Sign up to receive 5 emails over the next 30 days all designed to help keep you on track as you break loose from your porn addiction. “You make a commitment to be porn-free for 30 days and we’ll help you keep it by building a necessary strategy for success.”
Aside from these: “Read the Bible in a Year, the 30-Day Prayer Challenge or if you’re less spiritual the 21-Day Prayer Challenge #LunchwithJesus, Sex for Seven Days Challenge.”
Here’s the problem… While all of the churches who employ these models are trying to get Christians to do what they should already be doing, they’re pointing to a program as the mechanism whereby a person can attain spiritual success instead of a simple reliance on the transformative power of the Gospel!
Should you tithe, bring friends to church, stop looking at porn, read your Bible, pray daily, drink less, and have sex with your spouse? Absolutely! But these things should occur as a natural byproduct of your relationship with Jesus and not the result of a legalistic initiative!
“Ok, Zach. If the Gospel message is all people need why then do so many churches utilize such initiatives, campaigns, and programs?” There is one simple reason… Since many churches are more interested in “wooing an audience” than preaching the unsettling truth, these approaches are employed instead of the Gospel because the law possess a magnetic pull that fosters religious moralism while avoiding offending the flesh!
Keep in mind… What the Gospel demands is exactly why so many churches avoid it! As Martin Luther said, “A man must completely despair of himself in order to become fit to obtain the grace of Christ.” Tragically, for many this particular proposition is a deal breaker!
Two reasons legalism has a greater appeal than the Gospel:
1. The Law is Quantifiable! Let’s be honest trusting something to occur naturally is much harder to quantify than a “check-list” we can get to work tackling. When there is a task to accomplish it’s much easier to see progress and define success. The law is results driven.
Whereas the law provides the mechanism whereby we can do something and see an immediate and tangible result, it’s true the corporeal results of spiritual growth yielded by simply abiding in Grace and walking in the Spirit are often hard to quantify. And yet, here’s the problem with this approach… The growth initiated by the law is manufactured, inorganic, happened apart from Jesus, and is therefore unsustainable.
Example: Church Growth… I can’t tell you how tempting it is to employ an “Invite Your Friend to Church Day” or “Tithing Campaign” when you’re a little church and many of your members aren’t inviting their friends, evangelizing, or giving regularly.
And yet, because the Bible says “Jesus builds His church” the elders and I don’t want to do anything to rob this process from happening naturally. When or if we see growth, taking this approach will insure that growth was initiated by Jesus, as a moving of God’s Spirit in your hearts, and is therefore sustainable because it was Him not us who made it happen!
One side note… Many Christians find themselves frustrated because they have a misconception how it is we measure growth yielded by Grace and the indwelling Spirit. If you think growth means you “feel better about yourself” you’re sorely mistaken.
John D. Morris observes, “Once his view of Christ was proper, Paul’s view of himself began to decrease. In 56 AD, Paul called himself “the least of the apostles” (1 Corinthians 15:9-10). While in prison several years later, Paul wrote to the Ephesian church, marveling that this ministry was given “unto me, who am less than the least of all saints” (Ephesians 3:8). Shortly before his death, he testified “that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief” (1 Timothy 1:15). As Paul grew his evaluation of his worth decreased. As one draws closer to the Light, he is able to see more clearly his own unworthiness.”
2. The Law is Gratifying! Because the law affords your involvement it then enables room for you to feel good about your accomplishments, whereas the Gospel removes you entirely from the picture by placing all of the onus on the work and righteousness of Jesus. The law allows you the opportunity to take credit for your moral advancements.
Example: Here’s the problem with the Read your Bible in a Year or 30-Day Prayer Challenge… Even if you can actually follow through, success doesn’t change your heart concerning the Bible or prayer (which it intends to do) and instead has the opposite effect by galvanizing you against these disciplines as it was a work not motivated by love.
Friend, reading the Bible and spending time in prayer are central components to your relationship with Jesus. Meaning… It’s only a love for Jesus that will draw you to them! The remedy isn’t a program, but a renewed awareness as to how deeply Jesus love you!
Ultimately, the reason many churches use programs instead of the Gospel boils down to the reality the Law is self-aggrandizing! Paul continues by explaining these approaches occur “for no good (not for a good reason)…” because “they want to exclude you (“to shut you out” from the real power of the Gospel) that you may be zealous for them (dependent on them).”
Sadly, many of these programs are a trap because they demand dependence on the program (or a new program) as opposed to a dependency on Jesus for their sustainability.
Example: Because 80% of men who attended a “Promise Keepers” conference failed to remain pure within the first 30 days of making their promise, the act itself creates a demand whereby men have to keep going to the conferences to renew their promise. It’s why establishing for yourself an “accountability partner” isn’t a Biblical remedy to overcoming sin since you’re now dependent on a person other than Jesus!
Galatians 4:19-20, “My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you, I would like to be present with you now and to change my tone; for I have doubts about you.”
Like many pastors Paul is evaluating these Galatian churches and he’s honest he had serious “doubts” about them. I understand this perspective. It’s so easy to consider why we, Christians filled with the Holy Spirit, seem to behave more like the culture and not Jesus?
Why aren’t we as generous as He? Why aren’t we as concerned for the lost like Him? Why isn’t there a passion for prayer or why do our times of worship sometimes feel stale? If we’re called to love one another, why are the events aimed at relational development poorly attended or setting aside an hour and a half to make Sunday a priority so difficult?
And it’s in these moments (whether it’s the pastor evaluating things corporately or each of us looking at ourselves introspectively) the Law whispers into our ear the lie that it can help!
And yet, the only answer and the only true remedy to any of these things is not a program that will appeal to our fleshly pride, but for “Christ to be formed in each of us” which is only possible via His amazing Grace. The goal of the Gospel and the reason Paul heralded the truth of Grace was that the ultimate solution to our spiritual life and development is more of Jesus! No matter where you are Grace really does possess the power to change everything!
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