Grace and Law

So this the sermon preached August 9 at Kenton Church as part of the summer sermon series on Galatians

This past week a pastor, Rev. Gretta Vosper, of the United Church of Canada may face questions about her effectiveness to pastor. Her denomination is the most liberal in the world but they have to determine if “she has gone too far” (Perkel). At issue is that, she is an atheist. “I don’t believe in... the god called God...Using the word gets in the way of sharing what I want to share.” This isn’t new as she went public with her belief in 2001. She’s not alone. Portland has an atheist Presbyterian minister and in Austin Texas a Presbyterian church allowed an atheist to become a member. These sort of issues are not new to Christ’s people. In fact, it was similar issues that Paul faced among the Galatians which is why this letter is so important for 21st American Christians.

At the heart of chapter 3 is the question of how one obtains God’s grace. Are the blessings that God has promised to those who follow him, come by following rules or by faith in Christ. Three times Paul uses the phrase “works of the law” which are synonymous with the Law of Moses. Which is attempting to gain God’s Kingdom by legalistic rule keeping and diets.
What happens when one places their hope in anything other than Jesus is they are drawn off target, they become distracted or forget what’s key. Back in 2004 Matt Emmons was one bullet away from winning his second gold medal. He shot a perfect bullseye except it was the wrong target (Rivera). I watched an Olympic swimming event in which the first place in the breaststroke slightly turned his head to see his rival. His race was lost.

Here is the founding mission statement of a major U.S. university.

“Let every student be plainly instructed, and earnestly pressed, to consider well that the main end of his life and studies is to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life and therefore to lay Christ in the bottom, as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and learning.(Harvard University)
It’s been changed. Now it proclaims,

The mission of Harvard College is to educate the citizens and citizen-leaders for our society. We do this through our commitment to the transformative power of a liberal arts and sciences education.(
God is no longer part of the process or the goal for Harvard. It is about human ability. The direction and hope is no longer based in Christ but in a liberal arts and sciences education. And Harvard is only one example of the reality in which we live.

 At the 350th anniversary celebration of Harvard, Steven Muller, former president of Johns Hopkins University, bluntly stated, "The bad news is the university has become godless." Larry Summers, the former president of Harvard, confessed, "Things divine have been central neither to my professional nor to my personal life(Greer)"

The Galatians had started to shift their focus when Paul is informed and writes this letter to the foolish and stupid Christ followers in the region. How do we keep from being called foolish and stupid for the way we choose to follow Jesus? If you think Paul’s name calling is harsh consider that this it is the same word Jesus uses when in Luke 24:25 he told his disciples, “You foolish and slow of heart”.

It seems that someone has noticed the change and maybe even regrets it. But is too late for us or can we maintain a vibrant trust in Jesus?

Let’s consider the rhetorical questions in verses 1-6.
·       Did the Holy Spirit come because of what we did or by responding with faith?
·       Are we foolish enough to think the completion of our belief comes by our actions?
·       Have all our experiences in Christ been for nothing?
·       What is the source for the miracles you’ve experienced come from—human effort of God’s grace?

The answer Paul is looking for is obviously God’s grace and faith in Christ. The church had fallen victim to lies, smooth arguments, and deceit, much like Genesis 3 and the story of the serpent and Eve.

In Deuteronomy 8 we have two sections that illustrate why our answers are important today. God clearly tells us that keeping his commandments will lead to good harvests and safe lives. The reality check comes in the second passage. Start thinking we did it inevitably leads to following and worshipping other gods. God’s answer for that is destruction.

So what’s your answer? There have been plenty of people, sitting in pews, going on mission trips, active in programs, who have decided that ‘they and Jesus’ had accomplished much. I have close friends who gave up on God and their ministry when confronted with their sin. I’ve known youth who claim to follow Jesus whose life ignores Christ’s commandments. I’ve seen servants of God walk away when they get the job of their dream, the vacation cabin at a lake, the money that lets them travel, the new house, car, boat or friends. They would call themselves Christians but take any mention or memory of Jesus from them and their lives wouldn’t change.

I hope our answers are different.

Know Your History

We are just part of a long line of followers of Christ. It stretches back, not to the first century but to Abraham and even before him. Paul reminds the Galatians and us that God’s promise to Abraham came centuries before the Law was given to Moses. God promised Abraham a land and a nation. In addition, God’s fulfillment of this would be a blessing for all peoples.
This promise came 430 years before the Ten Commandments. This promise came before circumcision. This promise came before dietary restrictions, cleanliness rules and Pharisees. Through God’s promise to Abraham, all nations, even Gentile ones, would receive blessings, which involves the justification that Christ’s death gives.

The difference between the promise to Abraham and the Law of Moses is summed up well by Martin Luther who wrote,

In the promise to Abraham God said, ‘I will … I will … I will …’ But in the law of Moses God said, ‘Thou shalt … thou shalt not …’. The promise sets forth a religion of God—God’s plan, God’s grace, God’s initiative. But the law sets forth a religion of man—man’s duty, man’s works, man’s responsibility. The promise (standing for the grace of God) had only to be believed. But the law (standing for the works of men) had to be obeyed. God’s dealings with Abraham were in the category of ‘promise’, ‘grace’ and ‘faith’. But God’s dealings with Moses were in the category of ‘law’, ‘commandments’ and ‘works’ (Stott)

So why is the law? Its purpose is to convict us of sin. It is there to rightly display God’s curse on all who do not keep the whole law. The law brings a curse on all people because no one can keep it. The law binds all people with death and damnation because salvation, through the law, is only possible if we keep the law.

What do you think of that word ‘curse’? It means to reject, cast away, consider useless, not worth saving. As Dr. Stott says, “this is the position of every human being who has ever lived, except Jesus Christ.”

Faithful Responding to Christ

Paul tells the Galatians that Jesus was placarded on the cross. I will guess you’ve seen the huge lighted billboards along Broadway in New York. News, the latest movies, even Navy recruiting images are flashed to the tens of thousands who walk and drive along those streets. Imagine if Jesus’ death was displayed in such a way. That is what the Bible says, Jesus’ death was clearly seen for anyone who looked. There’s no mistaking it. It can’t be missed, unless we don’t want to see it.

Most preachers can tell stories of how people, whom we thought believed, actually were just ‘playing church’. The tendencies in Galatia are the same as in Portland. Those who trust in rituals, a moral code, science, wisdom, beauty, skills, money, power, things, or even doctrinal truth are at risk. “If one bases his or her hope for this life or the next upon anything apart from Christ he is placing confidence in flesh(Hendriksen)

Any fellowship we hope to attain with God will fail because God, through Christ made it happen. In Jesus, we are justified and without being justified, being set straight on God’s paths, there can be no fellowship. In fact, the sad truth is the opposite of justification is condemnation. There is no middle place.

What does it mean to respond in faith? It means to recognize that Jesus became and took our cursedness, because we can’t keep the law, and placed it on himself on the cross. That explains why God the Father turned his back on Jesus when he was hanging there. For that moment, with our sins on him, Jesus became what we are by our fallen nature. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor. 5:21)”

John Stott has a great statement of what this response looks like. He writes:
“Faith is laying hold of Jesus Christ personally. There is no merit in it. It is not another ‘work’. Its value is not in itself, but entirely in its object, Jesus Christ… Renounce the folly we can add to what Christ has done “come humbly to the cross, where Christ bore our curse, and cast ourselves entirely upon His mercy. And then, by God’s sheer grace, because we are in Christ Jesus by faith, we shall receive justification, eternal life and the indwelling Spirit.(Stott)

Have you done that? Do you need to do it? Does your sin keep getting in the way, do you keep saying, “As soon as I get this under control” or “Once I’m better at this”. You are no more acceptable to Christ once you’ve seemingly conquered your demons than you are now. The question is whether you’re willing to answer His call to come and be changed.
Let’s pray.

Works Cited:

Dunnam, Maxie D, and Lloyd John Ogilvie. Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982. Print. 'Harvard College Mission Statement in 1636 | Educating Generations for CHRIST'. N.p., 2012. Web. 7 Aug. 2015.

Greer, Peter. Mission Drift. Bethany House Publishers, 2015. Print.
Harvard University. 'Mission Statement'. N.p., 2015. Web. 7 Aug. 2015.

Hendriksen, William. Exposition of Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, And Philemon. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2002. Print.

Perkel, Colin. 'Atheist Minister Fighting United Church’s Effort to Fire Her'. The Globe and Mail. N.p., 2015. Web. 7 Aug. 2015.

Rivera, Steve. 'USATODAY.Com - Emmons Loses Gold Medal After Aiming At Wrong Target'. N.p., 2015. Web. 7 Aug. 2015.

Stott, John R. W. The Message of Galatians. London: Inter-Varsity P., 1968. Print.,. 'Emmons Loses Gold Medal After Aiming At Wrong Target (Washingtonpost.Com)'. N.p., 2015. Web. 6 Aug. 2015.


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