||So, what's wrong with rules? Life couldn't
continue if we didn't have rules to govern it. It's good
to teach your children to always say please and thank
you. To knock before entering a room, to clean up after
themselves. It's important to know that blue and green
should never be seen; that white wine is drunk with fish
or white meat and red wine with red meat. That coffee
will keep you awake, but milk will help you sleep. That
when you get a cold taking vitamin C will help, if it
doesn't give you cancer in the process. There's nothing
wrong with knowing those sorts of rules is there?
about when the rules get more serious? What about when
the rules begin to be promoted as the passport to life?
That's what was happening in the churches of Galatia.
There was this small group of Jewish Christians, you see,
who were trying to convince people that the Jewish rules
were essential for salvation. "Unless you are
circumcised according to the customs taught by Moses, you
cannot be saved", was what they were teaching. For
them rules weren't just there to give guidance in living.
They were there for absolute obedience. And so Paul
spends a large part of this letter dealing with this
question of rules. You'll remember if you were here last
week, that the way we understand this issue will affect
how we think about ourselves, how we think about others
and even how we think about God. So it's a big issue. And
so he goes on in today's passage to deal at some length
with this matter of legalism. He raises 5 main arguments
to convince the Galatians that the key to a relationship
with God is not rules, but faith.
thing he points to is their conversion. He says,
"Think back to when you first heard the gospel. Were
you first instructed about the rules that needed to be
followed or were you simply told about what Jesus Christ
had done for you? When you received the Spirit, was it
the result of your obedience to a set of rules or simply
because you believed the promise?" "You
idiots!" He says, "How could you be so stupid
as to be led astray by this new teaching."
when Paul first preached the gospel to them he told them
of Jesus' promise that they'd receive the Holy Spirit and
when they accepted what he said that's just what
happened. The Holy Spirit was given to them as a gift, as
the evidence of their conversion. So why would they now
think of reverting to rules, if the gift of the Spirit is
still theirs. Do they really think that God's waiting for
them to obey these rules before he'll bless them some
more? No, he blesses them because he promised to and
they've believed the promise and the evidence of that is
right before their eyes, in the miracles he works in
their midst every day.
a bit about this last week. The source of our ongoing
life in Christ is the same as the source of our initial
conversion. It comes from faith in Christ alone. It comes
from the indwelling presence if the Holy Spirit in the
believer's life. Why would you want to introduce
obedience to a set of external laws into that equation?
As we'll se in a moment that will only lead to
frustration and in the end to a quenching of God's
example of Abraham (6-9)
about the idea that Christianity is really the
fulfillment of Judaism so those rules that separated the
Jew from the rest of the world might still be relevant to
the Christian? That was where these Judaizers were coming
from, after all. Well, he says, think about where the
identity of the Jewish people comes from. It doesn't
start with Moses and the law does it? No, it begins with
Abraham. So where does Abraham fit into this whole
Abraham achieve righteousness? Well, he says, it's
simple. Abraham "believed God, and it was reckoned
to him as righteousness." (v6) What was it that
Abraham did that made him righteous in God's eyes? Well,
nothing. All he did was believe what God had told him and
that belief was enough for God to credit him with
righteousness, as a gift. God promised that he'd have
more descendants than he could count, that he'd take him
to a land that he was going to show him and that he'd be
blessed, along with all the nations on earth. And what
did Abraham have to do for all that to take place?
Nothing. All he had to do was believe God. Well, he had
to pack his camels and follow where God would lead him,
but he didn't have to achieve any of it by himself. Think
about it. How was he going to have a son? What could he
do about that part of the promise. He'd been trying for
the best part of 60 years to have a son without success.
He tried for another 25 years before God came to him
again and told him he'd have a son. By then it was
humanly impossible. Only God could bring about such a
about the land that God took him to? Did he have to
gather up an army and go in and drive out the inhabitants
of Canaan? No! Joshua would do that 470 years later. All
Abraham had to do was believe that God was faithful and
would keep his promise. Abraham died without possessing
any land apart from the cemetery plot where he'd buried
Sarah, but he never doubted that God would keep his
about the promise to bless all peoples through him? Well,
says Paul, that promise has been fulfilled as the
Gentiles have come to believe the promises of God just as
Abraham did. Those of us who have faith in Jesus Christ
share in the blessings of the covenant God made with
Abraham, because through our faith in God we become or
are shown to be children of Abraham, the man of faith.
inevitability of human failure (10-12)
Paul goes on talk about the futility of using the law as
a means of gaining righteousness before God. He says:
"For all who rely on the works of the law are under
a curse; for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who
does not observe and obey all the things written in the
book of the law." The reality of our situation is
that we're constitutionally unable to keep the law. As we
said last week, no matter how determined we are to do the
right thing, no matter how hard we work on our bad
habits, on our responses to the people around us, on the
things we allow to come into our minds, there'll
inevitably come a moment when our defences will be weak,
when someone will say something that will trigger a
reaction that's less than godly. And where are we then?
According to Deut 27:26, we're cursed because we haven't
kept everything that's written in the book of the law.
It's no good thinking of the law like you would an exam
paper. When I was a student, I once got 54% in an exam
for a subject I didn't particularly enjoy. I remember
thinking at the time that I'd obviously put in 4% too
much effort on that particular subject. But that isn't
how God's standards work is it? He expects 100%obedience,
100% of the time. So trying to gain righteousness by
obeying the law is futile.
Habakkuk understood this. He said that the one who is
righteous will live by faith. If that's the case then the
law has nothing to do with it. Faith has nothing to do
with keeping the law.
before we go any further there's a little exercise I'd
like you to do for a couple of minutes. I'd like you to
read vs19-25 and ask yourself the question that Paul
himself poses: "What then, was the purpose of the
was given to look after us, like a nanny or a tutor. Its
job was to keep us under control until a means of freeing
us from our limitations could be found. But it was also
meant to show us how much we need to be saved. v24 tells
us that the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came,
so that we might be justified by faith. One of the
functions of the law you see is to show us that we need
something beyond the law. The frustration we feel in
trying to keep the law is part of its design. We're meant
to be frustrated so we'll look beyond the law to faith in
that isn't to say that when God gave Moses the law he was
trying to trick us. Certainly if we could keep the whole
law then we would live by it. But in fact only one person
has ever achieved that. And that person was Jesus Christ.
meaning of the Cross (13-14)
brings us to the fourth argument for salvation by faith
rather than works. What was it that Jesus did for us?
Having lived a life of perfect obedience, he then gave
himself up to death on a cross. And through that death on
the cross he became a curse for us, thus saving us from
the curse of the law.
that the cross is central to this whole argument about
salvation by faith. Jesus death on the cross achieves
something that the law could never do. Through his death
on the cross Jesus took on himself the curse that should
have been on us, so that the blessing that Abraham was
promised might come to all people, through faith in
Jesus' death on the cross.
central to the whole argument because if Christianity
were just a religion of rules, of moral behaviour, of
niceness, then the cross would become irrelevant. At most
it would be relegated to the status of a great example of
sacrifice. Or it might become the ultimate model of a
life devoted to God and the service of others. Jesus gave
up all in order to show us how to serve others. So it
becomes just another religious symbol to encourage us to
keep the rules. That I think is the danger in the way our
Primate wants to dispense with the concept of Jesus death
as substitutionary. But Paul is saying exactly that.
Jesus takes on himself the curse so we can be delivered
from the curse. The cross isn't an incentive to law
keeping. Rather it's the solution to our lawbreaking. It
doesn't change how we feel about our sins, but how
God feels about them. Jesus takes our place so
that God can look at us and see the righteousness that
comes from Jesus Christ alone.
happens when we exercise faith in Jesus Christ. It
happens when we receive the promise of his Holy Spirit
who fills us with God's presence, who gives us the
righteousness that comes as a gift as we believe the
priority of the Promise (15-25)
leads us on to the fifth argument for the primacy of
faith over law keeping. That is that when God promises
something, his promise is going to be kept.
let me give you "an example from daily life: once a
person's will has been ratified, no one adds to it or
annuls it." Once a contract has been signed there's
no going back on it. It has to be acted upon. And if
that's true of a human contract, it's even more true of a
divine covenant. If God promises something, you can be
sure that he'll do it. But that raises a question about
the place of the law. You see the original promise to
Abraham was given some 430 years before the law was
given. So what effect did the law have on the original
promise? Well, it can't have had any effect on it can it?
The promise came first. No, as we've already seen, the
law was given for another reason altogether. The promise
to Abraham continued to stand even after the law had been
put in place to regulate how the people of Israel lived.
That's the nature of a promise isn't it? A promise once
given continues to hold true. Let me tell you a story.
a time in a land far away, there lived 2 childhood
sweethearts. One was the daughter of a wealthy count and
the other a humble shoemaker's son.. But their love for
each other was strong, so they swore a secret vow to each
other that when they came of age they would marry; and as
a token of their pledge they exchanged rings.
through their childhood they rejoiced in the hope of that
wedding day to come but as they grew older the young man
began to have some doubts. Oh, his desire to marry the
young woman was as strong as ever, but the older he got
the more he became aware of the differences in their
can't marry you just as I am, a mere cobbler's son!"
He told her.
course you can!" she replied. "Your lack of
noble blood makes no difference to me."
boy could not believe her. "No," he said.
"Before we can be married I must do something to
prove I'm worthy of you." So he left her weeping and
set forth to seek his fortune in the wider world.
thought at first he'd try the army, thinking that if he
returned a decorated hero he'd be worthy of her love. But
sadly he was no hero. He fled from the first battle he
faced and was stripped of such minor rank as he'd
achieved and was discharged from the army in disgrace.
thought he might enter commerce and become a wealthy
businessman, but alas he had no head for business either,
and within six months the dot.coms he'd invested in were
bankrupt as was he.
he thought to himself, 'there's only one alternative
left. I'll enter the university and become a great
scholar. Then I shall be worthy of her love.' But sadly
the boy was no better as a student than he had been as a
soldier and a businessman. He failed his first year exams
with the lowest grades on record and was expelled for
despair he trudged his weary way home. Years had passed
and he had achieved nothing but humiliation and failure.
How could he face his beloved now. There was no hope that
they could ever marry after all he'd been through. But as
he entered the city the count's daughter saw him from the
palace window. She had heard of all his disappointments
but her love for him was as strong as ever. Joyfully she
sped down the stairs and out into the city square to meet
good,' he wailed as he saw her. 'You can't want to marry
me now. I'll never be worthy of your love.'
||'But I do
want to marry you,' she said. 'I've always wanted to
marry you. Look at your hand.'
his finger, worn and so tight that he couldn't remove it,
was the ring that she'd given him when they'd made their
promised to marry you,' she reminded him. 'Nothing you've
done or failed to do can alter that. As far as I'm
concerned a promise is a promise.'
important to realise you see, that real love is not a
tribute. It's a promise. When 2 people marry they're
asked will you take this person to be your lawfully
married husband/wife. And they answer 'I will'. That's
what love is: a voluntary personal commitment to
that's the sort of promise that God made to Abraham. If
you look at vs 19-20 there's a fairly difficult little
section there that contrasts the promise made to Abraham
with the law given to Moses. What he's saying I think is
this. The promise to Abraham and the law given to Moses
are 2 totally different things. One is a covenant made by
God alone, where God makes a series of promises directly
to Abraham. The other is a bilateral agreement between
God and his people, put into place by an intermediary.
This latter agreement is conditional. If you keep the law
you'll receive the blessings that go with the law. If you
don't keep it you'll be cursed. By contrast the first
covenant had no conditions. God simply promised certain
things to Abraham.
most important thing in all this is that the promise came
first. It is primary. It's the promise to Abraham
that creates a relationship with God, not obedience to a
law that comes 430 years later.
||So it is
with us. Our relationship with God comes about through
his promise. It comes through Jesus' death on the cross.
It comes about as we believe that promise and put our
faith in Jesus Christ.
often, you see, we behave like the shoemaker's son. We
know that God loves us, but we strive and strive to be
worthy. We're so overwhelmed by our failure that we can't
enjoy our relationship with God. We want to be
Christians, but have to prove ourselves worthy of the
name. So we go to church but only out of duty. We say our
prayers but only out of habit. We live an upright life,
but only for the sake of respectability. And all the time
what we're working on is really just our self-esteem.
we think about the last day when we'll stand before God
on his judgement throne, we're not quite sure if we'll
measure up, if we'll be found worthy. In fact we're a bit
worried that our hypocrisy and sinfulness might be shown
up for what it is and that what we've achieved in this
life will turn out to be very little at all.
how you feel then learn the lesson of Galatians. Don't
rely on rules, on performance. Rely on God's promise. God
has promised that when you stand before him your slate
will be wiped clean, your clothes washed white in the
blood of the lamb, your name entered in he book of life.
On what basis? That you believed the promises of God.
That you put your faith in Jesus Christ and his
victory over sin and the curse of the law. If that's the
basis on which you stand you can have confidence both now
and on the last day that God loves you and will take you
to be with him forever. If that's the basis on which you
stand then it'll make a difference right now as you enjoy
the freedom in the relationship you now have with him.