As Paul concludes his Epistle to the Galatians, I want to remind you of the reason for the Epistle one last time and summarize him that we might understand these closing passages. As I noted last time, many want to always jump to the law and the commands. By nature, we love to be told what to do. We want to be told what to do, that is, unless God is the Person telling us what to do. By nature, we like to ignore the perfect holiness of the Law and the need for Christ that is displayed in it and go to men to ask for their lists of do’s and don’ts. That is, of course, until we’re born from above.
In Galatia this had happened. Jewish converts to Christianity, who had begun by trusting in Christ, fell back into the death and curse of the Law by convincing themselves that we start by God saving us through faith and then finish the race by keeping God’s Holy commands so He will bless us. In this case, they told the Galatian believers, who were Gentiles, that they needed to become circumcised and begin performing the deeds of the Law and then God would accept them. Then not only will God accept them but they’ll be in full fellowship with the really holy in the Church: the Jews.
As I promised when we began this series, Paul jumps into the fray ready for battle. The eternal life of his sheep is on the line and these wolves will not have them. He comes in with the sword of the word and devastates the appeal of the Judaizers. He puts to death any notion that a person can find any acceptance before a perfectly Holy God by the keeping of the Law. He demonstrates over and over again that the Law can only bring a curse to men if we are to be judged by our keeping of it. We are surely condemned to hell if we are measured against the Law.
But God, who is rich in mercy, sent His son to live under the demands of the Law. He kept it perfectly and righteously and then, He who knew no sin, became Sin for us. He who did not deserve the curse of God became a Curse for us by hanging on a tree. God turned the hand of His wrath that was ready to strike us and judge us for our sin and He struck and judged the Son on the Cross for our sins.
We are now freed from the condemnation of the Law if we are in Christ. If you trust in the righteousness of Christ then your sin is paid for and the curse is taken away. In its place is the blessing of obedience that Christ accomplished for you. Even more amazing, more unbelievable is the news that we are God’s adopted children. What manner of love is this that we should be called sons of God?
And so, Christian, Paul has reminded you over and over and over again what Christ accomplished on the Cross for you. Stand firm in the freedom that you were set free for. Do not return again to a yoke of slavery. Do not be deceived by those that tell you that God will not accept you or bless you until you prove to him that you are worthy to be blessed. God sent His Son to die for you because you’ll never be worthy on your own. When you start to understand that God set you on your feet to believe in Him when you had nothing to offer Him then you’ll stop looking within and worrying about whether or not you are measuring up. The answer is that you’ll never measure up to what God has done for you in saving you and making you His child. Stop looking within and always look to Christ.
And then, as Paul notes, something glorious occurs. Something changes about the Law. Hebrews 12 expresses this thought beautifully beginning at verse 18: 18For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest 19and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. 20For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” 21Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” 22But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
You see in Exodus, as the people came to Mount Sinai, the presence of the Lord descended upon the top of the mountain. What the people saw was terrifying: smoke, fire, judgment, and certain death if one so much as touched the mountain. They saw Moses walk up into it and thought he had surely died when he didn’t return after 40 days.
They were terrified of the Law – more specifically, they were terrified of God’s Holy character and that is what the Law represents. It judges, it divides, it sees right through sinful men and convicts of sin. It is meant to drive us to Christ.
But sinful men want nothing of this fear and so they protect themselves by ignoring the Law and changing it into something they can do. Gone is the fear of the Law and gone is the character of a Holy God in it. Now it is “taste not, touch not”. Now is it as simple as “…those who drink alcohol are going to hell….” Now it is as achievable as “…don’t smoke, don’t drink, don’t chew, or date women who do.” This is why Paul believed he was blameless before the Law before he had his eyes opened to who God really is. That’s because Paul was a Pharisee and the Pharisees had cheapened the Law: it was no longer the perfect righteousness of God but a list of 600+ regulations achievable by men and they arrogantly convinced themselves they were keeping the Law just like every other religion that thinks they can approach God apart from Christ.
The man of the flesh reduces God’s perfection to a list of do’s and don’ts because he can’t stand the idea that really what all those do’s and don’ts are for in the Law is to point a man to the perfect holiness of God. This is why Jesus in Matthew, in the Sermon on the Mount, spends so much time criticizing these low views of the Law and makes the Law holy and perfect and impossible again. A person’s view of the Sermon on the Mount says a lot about what they think the Gospel is. If you think that Christ, in the Sermon on the Mount, was giving you a list of do’s and don’ts that you can be saved by then you missed the Gospel because what He does in that Sermon is destroy any notion of keeping the Law which is summed up in love God and love neighbor perfectly or you are going to be separated as a goat and cast aside by Him in the final judgment.
But, you see, again it does not end there with our condemnation by the Sermon on the Mount. As we are confronted by the news of our sin it causes us to look to the Cross of Christ for salvation. Something beautiful happens. We are transported from the fear and trembling of Sinai to the heavenly Jerusalem where acceptance is found because Christ has become our righteousness.
The really mind boggling thing here is that the change that really occurs with the Gospel is us. You see, both at Sinai and at the heavenly Jerusalem is the presence of the same perfect and Holy God who never changes. But the reason why we fear the Holy God at Mount Sinai but rejoice at the heavenly Jerusalem is because we are changed by God in order to no longer be afraid. Where God once stood as a Judge at Sinai because we could not keep the Law in the sinful passions of our flesh, He now stands as our Savior and great Reward in the heavenly Jerusalem.
This is why it’s called the new birth. This is why we’re said to be given eyes to see and ears to hear. This is why we’re said to be given new hearts where we had hearts of stone. We have a completely different view of reality now.
And because we have a new heart and new mind, the Law is no longer a minimum set of standards that we think that we can perform to be saved. Instead, we remember that Christ has saved us because He performed it and, out of joy, we turn back to the Law, where we see God’s Holy character, and we begin to delight in it. We meditate on it, we get inside of it, and it is used by us to reveal the remaining sin within us that we might die to sin and live to Christ.
But that Law then is no longer a list of do’s and don’ts for us. Holy living is not expressed in asking any more “What is the list of things I can’t do and what are the things I must do…” any more. Our motivation toward pleasing God isn’t trying to figure out what our minimum is or folding our arms at our Father and saying: “I’m not going to do anything for you until you prove to me that your Word tells me I have to do that.” If that is your attitude then you have not been born again.
Instead, the new birth is expressed in our attitude toward God to say: “I wish to pursue the things that please you all the days of my life because I have been adopted into your family to be made holy alongside my brothers and sisters in the Church.”
And so Paul states in Galatians 6, beginning in verse 1: “1Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. 3For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. 5For each will have to bear his own load.”
This really reveals whether or not we understand what God has redeemed us for. You see, it starts out by reminding you and me that we were not redeemed to sit around gazing at our belly button all day long. Many of us approach Church as if it is somewhat useful but that real spirituality is found in personal time and us working on building ourselves up. Yeah, we’ll be at Church if there isn’t something more pressing. “If I’m having a bad Sunday,” some reckon, “I’ll just spend quiet time with God because I need to be strengthened and I’ll get more out of quiet time alone than I will with the Church in corporate worship.”
But the Church isn’t all about me. We have been united to Christ to be in the Church to build each other up. Real growth is found especially in the hearing of the Word as we worship together corporately and enter the presence of God. We are supposed to care not merely about how we’re growing individually but about those around us and especially those who are struggling. When we see someone losing sight of the Gospel or forsaking the assembly of Saints and the Word then we should be gently admonishing them to stay near where God’s people meet and where He feeds His flock.
But be careful here, Paul warns. Some of us are very pretentious and assume we are more spiritual than we really are. We believe ourselves immune to the temptation that our brother or sister is in and so we rush in foolishly and can even be entangled in the same sin. We are supposed to enlist other’s aid and make sure we’re all looking out for each other.
I wish I could say that this Church is a model of this but I know it is not. I’ve often found out about many sad stories and broken hearts not because brethren brought a concern to the Church as a family would but because it was being passed around by sinful gossip. Many unfortunately think: “That’s none of their business how I’m doing. I can handle it myself.”
I’m not angry at this. It makes me sad. It breaks my heart. It makes me weep that we have so far to grow in the Gospel before we can begin to expose ourselves to one another because that’s the kind of risk we’re supposed to be willing to take for one another.
And because this is risky stuff to expose our lives, Paul essentially tells us all: “Don’t you dare for one second become proud!” Don’t think for a moment that just because a brother and sister has stopped coming to Church or is discouraged that you are better than they. Don’t think you stand in any place before God where He looks at you and says: “What a good person you are”. Remember that Pharisee whose only prayer was: “Thank you I’m not like that guy over there….” Don’t you dare ever think you stand and are accepted by God because you are well behaved. As long as we keep in front of our eyes that we are no better or no worse than our other brothers and sisters under the Law and that we’re all saved by Christ and will have to give account to one Judge and not to each other, then we’re set free from the burden of putting on masks. We’re free from having to lie to each other with smiles when our week has been horrible and people ask “…are you OK…” and we tell them we’re fine because we think Church is where only smiles belong. Bear each other’s burdens because our hearts should be transformed by Christ to do so. Rejoice with those who rejoice for sure but take the time to weep with those who weep as well.
So we must pursue righteousness and good for one another because that’s the nature of children that are in the one family of God. Paul continues in verse 9: “9And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. 10So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” Don’t grow weary of your brothers and sisters. Don’t grow weary of pursuing the Cross of Christ and His righteousness. Yes, often sowing back into our flesh is easier. It’s the way of the world and those around us. But we have to be diligent to live lives as if the Gospel has had some sort of effect upon us. We have to live lives that reflect our acceptance and salvation by our Savior. Do not grow weary of serving those in the household of faith for God will supply all the strength you need for the task.
Paul concludes this glorious Epistle with these thoughts: “ 12 It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. 14But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. 16And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.
17From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.
18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.”
I just want to urge you personally, one last time, not to think for a minute that you are immune from the temptation to go back into dead works. The Christian Church is surrounded on every side by people who call themselves Christian teachers who would put you into the same slavery that the Judaizers were. Get the message of the true Gospel into your bloodstream. Learn to know what it is. Never be allured by the temptation to think that your works add the least bit to your acceptance before God. The only thing that counts is that God sent His Son to become a Curse for everyone who believes. It begins and ends with faith in His work and that begins in you by the new creation that God has wrought in your lives by the preaching of the Word.
You’ll hear it in altar calls that tell you to consider whether or not you’re really dedicating your life as you ought, you’ll hear it from Pentecostals that will tell you that you’re not really blessed until you’ve been baptized in the Holy Spirit, you’ll hear it in people that tell you that you must add a purpose-driven life to it, and you’re going to hear some new twist a year or two from now – yet another version of the Law dressed up to seem like innocent advice on how to live better lives so God will accept you.
But the story is as old as Scripture: you can’t add to the Gospel. It’s all Christ. It’s all His work and we contribute nothing to His work to save us. Even our being made holy by Him is sealed and assured by His finished work. Stand in it and don’t be enslaved to other principles.
And so, with Paul, it is my heart’s desire that you all know and never forget the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. If you have never experienced peace with God because you’ve never really heard the Gospel then believe upon Christ and stop trusting in yourselves. But, if you have heard it and believed it, then may His grace continue to overflow into your hearts so that you trust in Him, find your joy in Him, and find your strength in Him both now and forevermore. Amen.