This sermon is number 3 in a series of 7
Life As God Intends For His People - Part 3
"Life Of Grace Not Of Law"
by David Legge | Copyright © 2011 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
Well, thank you very much to the men, and good evening to you all. It's good to be here again in Ballymoney, and it's starting to feel like home now! These last three nights here, I'm getting used to the road down from Portadown, or up from Portadown - and it's good to be here with you again tonight, especially if it's your first time. I know some of you are here for the first time tonight, some friends as well especially welcome, it's good to see you. We've started a series on Sunday evening entitled 'Life As God Intends For His People'. We started on Sunday night on the subject 'Life Eternal', and last night we looked at 'Life Empowered By The Spirit' - the Spirit's empowerment and fullness, and the fruit of the Spirit that is meant to be in the believer's life.
As has already been said, these are recorded, and also what is available for you if you wish is a booklet form of all this series - and that is possible, not because I'm meticulous in my notes, but because the chap who puts my messages on the Internet, he not only records them in audio, but he transcribes them word for word - Andrew Watkins is his name. He is a gift from God to me, I can tell you that, and the Lord has used him mightily - but he's going to transcribe these messages, so if you're fed up listening to me, you can read. The brilliant thing is you can put it down when you're fed up - you see, you can't do that tonight! You can put it down and have a cup of tea and then come back to it, or read over it again even - so do take one of those sheets, and put down whatever you want to order.
We're looking tonight at a 'Life Of Grace Not Law' - it's following on really from what we talked about last night, about life in the Spirit, and because of that we're going to turn to the book of Galatians again, where we were last evening, and chapter 3. The same verses we read last night, but we'll be dipping into the rest of the book again, and also throughout the scriptures on this subject of the 'Life As God Intends For His People' is to be a 'Life Of Grace Not Law'. So we'll read verses 1 through to verse 3: "O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified? This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?".
Let's pray together - and as I've invited you on previous nights, I do again, to come to the Lord and ask Him to speak to you. We're here to meet with God, I hope that's why you're here, and we want to hear His voice. So let's come and say: 'Lord, if You've something to say to me tonight, speak to me' - and I believe He will. So let us pray together: Father, we thank You for Your holy word. We thank You for the scriptures, we thank You that they are God-breathed. We thank You for the power that is inherent within them, and yet, Lord, we don't want to preach upon them devoid of power. We laboured last evening on the necessity of that enduement of power from on high, the promise of the Father. Lord, we would ask for that unction to function in the power and demonstration of the Holy Ghost. We want to preach the word tonight with the power of God, the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven. We want the truth to be illuminated to men and women's hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit - that's something that the preacher cannot do, and, Lord, I pray that the Holy Ghost will shine upon the truth, and will ignite it and fire it like a flaming arrow into the hearts and the souls of Your people here. And should there be any who find themselves in their pseudo-Christian experience weighed down by burdens of law, that You will liberate them tonight, Lord, that You will deliver them, and lift from off them the burden; that they might take upon them the yoke of Christ, which is easy and light. So, Lord, we ask for Your help in this regard. Come now and meet with us we pray, in Jesus' name, Amen.
In 2002 George Barna, you may have heard of him, he is the head of a research group in the United States who take various polls on various subjects. He took a poll of Christians nationwide in the United States of America to find out how widespread legalism was in the American church. If you don't know what legalism is, you'll know by the end of this message. One in six of the survey statements was this: 'The Christian life is well summed up as trying to do what God commands'. Then there was this question: 'How would you respond to that statement?'. I wonder how you would respond to that yourself? Listen to it again: 'The Christian life is well summed up as trying to do what God commands'. How would you respond? Well, if you agree and say, 'Well, that sort of sums it up for me', you would be among the majority of 57% polled who strongly agreed that, yes, the Christian life is summed up as trying to do what God commands. 25% somewhat agreed, they weren't 100% sure, but they thought that was probably a good summarisation. So if you put those two figures together, in total about 82% agreed in a roundabout way that the Christian life is well summed up as trying to do what God commands. The only problem with such a summary of the Christian life is that it is absolutely wrong!
Now that may be a shock to some of you here tonight, but the reason why that statement is wrong is that it is performance-based. The Christian life is not performance-based. Most of you dear evangelical folk will be well versed in Ephesians 2:8-9: 'By grace are you saved through faith' - that is the cardinal principle of Christianity - 'it's not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast'. How are we saved? By grace through faith - but a truth that so often is missed, particularly by evangelicals, is: the way we begin is the way we ought to continue - by grace through faith. That was the thing that the Galatians needed to get a hold of, look at verse 3 of chapter 3 - we were there for quite a considerable time last night, but it's worth looking at again - 'Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?'. On Sunday night we looked at how we commence this 'Life Eternal', by the new birth, by receiving Christ and being born-again, born from above, born by the Spirit. Paul is coming to these Galatians, who were well schooled with this elementary doctrine, and says: 'What has happened to you? Who has bewitched you? Somebody has cast a spell on you! Christ was crucified, as if in your midst, you knew that it was by the blood, by God's free gift of salvation and receiving what God has provided through the hand of grace by your hand of faith - what has happened to you? You started in the Spirit, and now you think you can be perfected in the flesh!'.
If you're here tonight, and your Christianity is characterised more by rules than relationship, you've got the wrong end of the stick. That is certainly not life as God intended for His people! If your Christianity is characterised more by performance than dependence, you've got it wrong, because Christianity - from start to finish - is all about by grace through faith. You see, when our emphasis becomes 'dos and don'ts', rather than pursuing an intimate relationship, a personal faith-based relationship with God, we've got it wrong and we are in great danger of straying into areas, like the Galatians, where we can become bewitched, fall into a trance under the spell of some other spirit or other force - namely legalism.
Here's a better definition of true Bible Christianity than the one that George Barna asked, here it is: 'Christianity is a personal faith-based relationship with God the Father, through abiding in His Son Jesus Christ, and walking in loving obedience to His word through the person and power of the Holy Spirit'. Can I repeat that for you if you're taking notes? Christianity is a personal faith-based relationship with God the Father, through abiding in His Son Jesus Christ, and walking in loving obedience to His word through the person and power of the Holy Spirit. You see, this is where the Judaisers had gone wrong. We talked last night that these false teachers had come into Galatia to these Gentile Christians, and the Judaisers - as their name would indicate - were Jews who claimed to follow Christ, and basically they were saying: 'Yes, it's through the cross of Jesus that our sins can be paid for, but it's not enough. You must also adhere to the laws of Moses, the rites and the rituals, the ceremonies of Judaism, circumcision and all, and you Gentiles must live like Jews. Yes, Jesus died for your sins, but in order to be truly saved and know you're saved for sure, you've got to obey the law'.
In fact, what they were saying was: 'To receive God's promise to Abraham' - who was the first Jew - 'you must become a Jew'. So what they were saying was: it's Christ plus - there's a lot of isms and cults and sects today saying this, isn't there? Christ plus, and they were saying 'Christ plus Moses', or 'Christ plus legalistic requirements'. They were effectively preaching that what Christ has begun at Calvary, Moses must complete and perfect. One translation of chapter 2 of Galatians verse 4 goes like this: 'This matter arose because some false believers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus, and to make us slaves' - to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus, and to make us slaves! Beware of anyone, or any organisation, or any sect, that tries to make slaves of you, and tries to rob you of the freedom that you have in Christ.
I love chapter 5 and verse 1, and one rendering is this: 'It is for freedom that Christ has made us free, therefore be no longer ensnared with a yoke of bondage'. Can I ask you tonight, Christian, are you free? It's not a designation, by the way, of your denomination! Are you free in the Spirit, or under the law? This was a serious problem, in chapter 1 and chapter 2 Paul argues that this concept of these false teachers was actually undermining the very essence of the gospel of grace. He tells them in chapter 1: 'This is another gospel, and you're not to listen to it, it's anathema, it's accursed - because it's not the true gospel of grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone!'. You see, the Gospel is 'by grace through faith plus nothing', that's what Paul is saying. It's through the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, His resurrection, and faith alone in that plus nothing - and he says that in verse 21 of chapter 2: 'I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain'. What is the cross all about if we could get there on our own steam?
So the central issue in this book, and indeed the central issue in the Christian life, is the basis of our acceptance with God. Is it on the basis of our performance, or is it on the basis of God's grace? Is it by grace, or is it through law? Now, not only did Paul indicate that this false doctrine affected the Gospel that these folk were preaching, but it also - and this is the crucial thing for us tonight - it affected the level at which they tried, and 'try' is the imperative word, the level at which they tried to live their Christian lives, because they sought sanctification at a performance level. They tried to be holy by obeying the law.
Now good evangelical folk understand that salvation cannot be achieved by performance. You would be the first one to sit down with your New Testament and tell a person that says. 'Well, I go to my church, and I say my prayers, and I give in to charity, and I have been through sacraments' and all sorts - you would be the first to say, 'No, no, no, it's not by works, it is by grace'. We know that salvation is by grace, but are we guilty - and I think many are - of trying to achieve holiness and sanctification by performance. In the same regard, equally it is not Christ plus our effort in order to be sanctified. In verses 1, 2 and 3 of chapter 3 that we read together Paul is saying: 'Christ was crucified before your eyes, portrayed as such. This only I want to learn from you', verse 2, 'Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?'. How were you saved? It was by faith, and by the power of the Spirit in response to your faith.
Now, let me ask you tonight: how are you living your 'Christian life'? Are you trying to do what God commands, or, you know, a lot of poor folk in Ulster are trying to do what somebody else commands - it wasn't God, but it was their interpretation of something that God may or may not have said, and they're living under this bondage of a list of rules that has been enforced upon them, and it's not from God at all. Or are you living, what we said, a personal faith-based relationship with God as your Abba Father, through abiding in His Son the Saviour, Jesus Christ, and lovingly obeying God's word - but not in the flesh, or through laws - but through the person and power of the Holy Spirit. You see what we're talking about here tonight is not 'doing' but 'being' - that's what Christianity is. Being! This life that God has deposited within us, allowing that life to come forth! Now we have responsibility, of course, and there are things to be done - look at verse 20 of chapter 2: 'I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me' - but it is 'being' in the sense that we are not letting ourselves 'be' and live our selfish lives, but we are letting God 'be', through the Spirit, living the life of Christ in us by faith... that's crucial, by faith not by works.
I said to you last night that it is futile to try and live the Christian life, because it is an utterly impossible life to live - and that's a big let-down for a lot of folk, but it is utterly impossible. As Roy Hession said in his little book 'The Calvary Road': 'The only life that pleases God is the life of His Son' - 'This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased'. So that's the life you've got to live, but you can't live it - well, you can't live it of yourself. What you got to do is die, and let the Holy Spirit live that life through you. It can never be achieved by law, it's only the life in the Spirit, the crucified life, that is the starting point of all sanctification - and if that's not your sanctification, it's of the flesh.
Also I have to say, and this isn't my subject tonight, but: if we think that we must perform to gain acceptance with God, do you know what the knock-on effect of that is? We then require others to perform to gain acceptance with us. If they don't measure up to our standard, we brush them off as unworthy. But you see when you realise that you're accepted by grace in God's sight, you can accept anybody that names the name of Christ by grace. In chapter 5 on we see that, but we'll not look at it tonight - we want to be as practical as possible. A 'Life Of Grace Not Law', another title that I could give this message tonight is: 'The How Of Holiness'. Now let me say before I start - well, I did start a wee while ago - if you're warm, get your coat off, I'll not tell you to undo your tie, but maybe you don't even have a tie - it doesn't matter, but get cool, I don't want anybody falling asleep. Maybe we need to open a door or two - I'm warm up here, if you're not warm down there that's OK, but it's very warm up here. I want everybody to be able to concentrate: 'The How Of Holiness'. How is it done? You want to be holy, you want to be pure, you want to be sanctified, but how?
Chapter 3 verses 1 to 9 teaches us that salvation and sanctification are a work of the Spirit, received by faith, not achieved by works. Do I need to repeat that? Salvation and sanctification are a work of the Spirit, therefore not of the flesh or of law, received by faith and not achieved by works. Now, Paul argues this in three ways. He argues it from the present, and he says: 'Presently this is how things are working among you Galatians', verse 5, 'Therefore He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you, does He do it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?'. Now, miracles were being performed in the midst of the Christians in Galatia, and Paul is saying: 'Well, did you work those miracles up by keeping the law and by the power of the flesh?'. Of course you didn't! Presently, he is saying, these miraculous signs going on in your midst are worked by the Spirit in response to your faith. So presently the case is that it is the work of the Spirit through faith that is manifesting miracles - but also it was the case previously, not just presently but previously.
In verse 6 we read this: 'Just as Abraham 'believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness''. Previously Abraham believed, and God credited his faith toward Him as righteousness. I read an article recently that likened God crediting Abraham's faith as righteousness to some of the coupons that you get in your weekly paper, the free paper that goes around the doors, I'm sure you have one around here. Maybe you get a little coupon that entitles you to a bag of sugar, or a box of teabags or something like that. You may not have the money - I know you're all poor around these parts! - for a bag of sugar, or a box of teabags, but if you didn't have the money you could take the coupon, and you can cash the coupon in as the equivalent. You have the price, but you can cash this coupon in, and you are credited the goods - that's what faith did for Abraham, that's what faith does for us. We cannot achieve God's righteous standard, but when we exercise faith, as Abraham did in the past, it was credited to him as God's righteousness. Isn't that marvellous?
But what Paul is saying is: 'Look, presently miracles are working in your midst, and it's by the Spirit through your act of faith. Abraham in the past, previously, acted in faith toward God, and was credited God's righteousness'. Then he moves on, and he speaks prophetically in verses 7 through to 9, that the children of Abraham are all who believe - whether Jews are Gentiles - all who have faith in God. Verse 7: 'Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, 'In you all the nations shall be blessed'. So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham'. The physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, of course, are the Jewish people - but the spiritual descendants of Abraham are the sons and daughters of faith and not works. Now this shattered the Jew's false confidence in their physical ancestry. You remember the Lord Jesus in Matthew chapter 3, He had to say to them: 'Do not think to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father'. For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones'. You see they had got lost in their spiritual inheritance.
Jesus, in fact, said in John 8: 'You are of your father the devil'. 'Don't be proud about Abraham as your patriarch, you're of your father the devil, and the works of your father you will do - he was a murderer from the beginning'. You remember a crowd of Jews came to the Lord Jesus in John 6, we touched on it on Sunday night, and they said: 'What must we do that we might work the works of God?', and Jesus says, 'This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom God has sent'. He saying: 'This is the thing to do: have faith!'. You see, the promise, as verse 16 says here, was not to Abraham's seeds - although there are promises, I believe, to the Jews - but the promise was to Abraham's Seed. Verse 16: 'Now to Abraham and his Seed', singular, 'were the promises made. He does not say, 'And to seeds'', plural, 'as of many, but as of one, 'And to your Seed', who is Christ'. Abraham received the promise to his offspring, his Seed, singular - that's Jesus! These promises are fulfilled in Christ, not in Moses. Look at verse 17: 'And this I say, that the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later', than the promises given to Abraham, the Mosaic law was 430 years later, this law, this new covenant of Moses 'cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ', to Abraham, 'that it should make the promise of no effect'.
Therefore it is claimed by faith in Christ, and not by the works of Moses - verse 18: 'For if the inheritance is of the law', the law of Moses, 'it is no longer of promise; but God gave it to Abraham', 430 years before the Mosaic law it was given to Abraham 'by promise'. You see? We are saved by grace through faith, but we are sanctified by grace through faith, not by the law - certainly not by the law of Moses.
Now we also see, and this is the second point for you to jot down if you're taking notes, in verses 10 to 14: the righteous shall live by their faith, not by works. The righteous shall live by their faith, not by works. Look at verse 11: 'But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for', quoting Habakkuk, ''the just shall live by faith''. You see, you can't live by the law - that's very important. If you look here at verse 10, the first half of it, Paul says: 'For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse'. The righteous must live by faith, because to live by law brings a curse. You don't have to look too far to find this out, because when you look at particularly religious people who have a code of ethics, a standard that they're trying to achieve, well - like any standard - once you set the bar, you're aiming for it, but you always get disappointed, especially in a religious capacity because none of us are perfect and we always, but always, fall short of the bar. Even if the bar is the law of Moses, none of us, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, we have missed the mark, there's no difference - and so, if we take the law of Moses as our standard of acceptance with God, we will always be miserable, because we will always fail! It brings a curse.
In fact, you see this really illustrated well in chapter 4 and verse 15, look at it, Paul says: 'What then was the blessing you enjoyed?', that's translated in another translation, 'What has happened to all your joy?'. Where has your joy gone? Do you know where their joy had gone? They once had great joy because they were revelling in the wonder of salvation by grace, a free gift, just accepted by simple child-like faith, and being sanctified in Christ, and all the blessings of God 'Yes and Amen' in Him - and they were just over the moon about it, and then these old pharisaical Judaisers came in and said: 'Ah, but hold on, you haven't achieved yet. You're not holy yet. Boy, you need to keep the law, you need to become Jews'. All of a sudden these burdens were laid on them, and they lost their joy and they became miserable
Now, I'll not ask are there any miserable Christians in the meeting tonight! I'm sure there's one or two! You certainly will be miserable if you're under the curse of the law. The great tragedy is: trying to connect with God on the level of performance always ends up in disappointment, because that is the one place that God cannot be found. This is a widespread problem. Have you ever said to yourself as a Christian: 'I just can't try any more'. Did you feel like throwing in the towel? You don't feel like you measure up to this standard, whatever that standard is. Maybe it's a standard of others, and you can't rise above other's expectations of you - and because of that you're striving, and you're struggling, and you're wrestling. You've lost your peace! You once had it, but it's gone! You've lost your joy, and maybe even lost your security in Christ because you're looking to yourself, or you're looking outside of yourself to a list of rules, rather than looking to Jesus and Him alone.
You see, there's a curse with the law. S. Lewis Johnson, the great Bible expositor, put it like this, he said: 'Legalism wrenches the joy of the Lord from the Christian believer, and with the joy of the Lord goes His power for vital worship and vibrant service. Nothing is left but cramped, sombre, dull, and listless profession. The truth is betrayed, and the glorious name of the Lord becomes a synonym for a gloomy killjoy'. Do you think Christianity has ever been perceived in that way? A gloomy killjoy? 'The Christian under law', he goes on to say, 'is a miserable parody of the real thing'. It's not the real thing, my friend! It's not life in the Spirit, it's not life as God intended! It brings shame and guilt, and it is in the arsenal of the legalist to use shame and guilt if you don't measure up to their particular standard. Perhaps the greatest danger of legalism is that it turns people away from grace and the joyful freedom that is in Christ.
Do you remember what the Lord said in Matthew 23:13: 'Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in'. Legalists block God's people from the way of freedom. They block the joy and the peace by making the Christian life a cumbersome journey of religious performance. In fact, the Lord in that same chapter, Matthew 23, said in verse 4: 'These Pharisees bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers'. A paraphrase of that verse goes like this: 'They crush people with unbearable religious demands, and never lift a finger to ease the burden'. I wonder has that been your experience of Christianity? Can I tell you something: that ain't Christianity! That's the curse of the law!
To live by the works of the law brings a curse, but verse 10, the second part of it, in chapter 3 shows us that it also demands perfection: 'Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them'. It demands perfection, verse 12: 'Yet the law is not of faith, but 'the man who does them shall live by them'', or 'must live by them'. You see, perfectionism is the fruit of legalism - you've got to be perfect! I heard someone say: 'Jesus was perfect, but He was not a perfectionist'. You need to think about that one. In other words, He did not require perfection on the behalf of His followers, His disciples and the people who were in the gutter who He touched and healed and restored and forgave. You might say: 'But hold on, in Matthew 5:48, that the Lord not say, 'Be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect'?'. Yes, He did, but if you think, by any means, that He was meaning, 'You disciples need to pull your socks up and be like God', that's not what He meant. He meant that they needed to die to themselves, this was an unattainable goal in the flesh without death to themselves and life in the Spirit. They were on that journey, and maybe you're on it to - to realise that, 'In my flesh dwells no good thing'.
Maybe you're a perfectionist, a Christian one, and it's putting your head away? It will do, and you'll put everybody else's heads away as well! Richard Walters said: 'People who must think and act without flaw, punishing themselves when they don't meet the unattainable goal, they leave behind them a trail of frustration. They remember the past with regret, and don't enjoy the present as much as they might - and usually they dread the future, and it's likely that they make those around them miserable like themselves'.
Living by the works of the law brings a curse, it demands perfection, it is impossible, and thirdly: it doesn't justify. That's the biggest reason to leave legalism alone: it doesn't justify, because it's weak through the flesh. In Romans 8, that wonderful purple passage, we read: 'There is now no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus'. We're not condemned by anyone, because we're not condemned by God. We're not attaining to any law of the flesh, but the law of life in Christ Jesus has set us free from the law of sin and death. The reason why the law could not do this righteousness for us is, and this is what he says in verse 3 of Romans 8: 'The law was weak through the flesh'. There's nothing wrong with God's law, it's perfect - the problem is us. We have a bias towards sin. The law is weak through the flesh, so it can't justify us.
Here's another thing: it was never intended to justify us. The law of Moses was not given for that purpose. Look at verse 21 of chapter 3: 'Is the law then against the promises of God?' - you might be saying that. Is there a contradiction here in what you're saying? 'Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law'. Do you see what he's saying? If there had been a law that we could achieve righteousness, well then we could get righteousness by the law - but there isn't one. Verse 22: 'But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor'.
The law was never intended to justify us - and, in fact, not only is it weak through the flesh, and it couldn't justify us, but here's the biggest reason of all why not to live under law: it's what Christ has redeemed us from. Why would any blood-bought child of God want to live under what Christ redeemed us from? Look at the verse I'm getting at here, verses 13 and 14 of chapter 3: 'Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree'), that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith'. You can read about it in verse 26 to the end of the chapter. Understand the purpose for which the law of Moses was given - why was it given? Verse 24: 'a schoolmaster', 'a tutor' to instruct us and get us ready for Christ, to show us our bondage to sin - that's why the law was given! Like a magnifying glass to magnify our sin in our eyes, so that we might know that we need a Saviour!
In fact, if you look at chapter 4 and read on from verse 8, you see that the law enflames sin. It increases sin, that's what Paul says in Romans as well - and so, to turn to the law from Christ is to return to, Paul says here, 'the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world'. He says here in chapter 4 it is to become slaves again, to come under bondage from which Christ set us free. Verse 10 of chapter 4 says you can observe days, and months, and seasons, and years, you can be enslaved to religious ritual and rites - but you're not meant to be slaves, he says in chapter 4, you're meant to be sons!
What's the effect that all this has on you? This is chapter 4, remember what I said, verse 15 the rendering: 'What then was the blessing you enjoyed? What has happened to all your joy?'. In fact, he says here in verse 16, at the end of verse 15: 'I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your own eyes and given them to me. Have I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth?'. Paul probably had a problem with his eyesight, and they were such gracious, loving, joyous people that they would have plucked their very good eyes out and given them to Paul to replace his bad - but something had taken away their vitality, their spiritual oomph, joy, and ecstasy. Do you know what it was? Law.
I'm going to tell you something, and this might be a revelation to you. Listen to this statement, listen: you become like the God you worship - that's profound. We could look at various religions in our world today, and see how their conception of God has led them to be very wicked, and callous, and hateful. It's exactly the same here: you become like the God you worship. In chapter 4 verses 4 to 7, he says we are not slaves, but we are sons by the adoption through Christ's redemption. Verse 6: 'And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, 'Abba, Father!'' - the Spirit of Jesus in us crying out 'Abba, Father!'. We are meant to have a Father-child relationship with God Almighty, not a relationship of an Employer with a slave.
I think the prodigal son is the best illustration of this in the book. Turn with me to Luke chapter 15. You remember the story, I hope you know that he took an inheritance from his father that wasn't due to him until his father had died - so it was as if he was saying, 'I wish you were dead, so that I could get my hands on your money'. His father gave it to him, and he went into the far country and he wasted it with riotous, prodigal living. He eventually can't even get fed with the pig swill of the farmer's pigs that he has been feeding, he can't even feed his belly on them - and he realises that there is bread in his father's house, and that to spare. He comes to his senses, and then he says: 'This is what I'm going to do', verse 18, 'I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants''. Now, you see what's going on here: he had messed up, he had blotted his copybook. He was a son, but he had now sinned big-time - and he thought: 'I could never come back to my father just as a son, if he even accepts me back it will have to be on the level of a slave, I will have to earn my keep from here on in'.
I love this, because we see the father in this parable. This parable is not about the son, it's about the father. First I want you to see, when he asked for his inheritance the father didn't pummel him into submission - that's interesting. He let him go, and the Father lets us go when we make certain choices. But what I want you to see is: he spots the son a great way off. The son starts returning, you know the story, verse 20: 'He arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him'. Now let me ask you a question: how did his father see him a great way off? The only explanation I can give - I don't know whether it's right or not - he must have been watching. Does that make sense to you? He must have been watching from a high height, maybe the rooftop, to see him a great way off - but how did he know he was coming that day? Well, he didn't, so I think he must have been watching every day. Do you see the father's heart?
Then, when the father spots him still a great way off, he races down the stairs at the side of the house, and he shouts instructions to his servants to get a big feast ready. He stumbles - in those days the men wore the skirts - he probably would have had to gather his skirts and run towards the boy he had longed to embrace for so long. Now this is what I want you to see, look down here at verse 21. The son had been practising his spiel, hadn't he? The son said to him - the father embraces him and has compassion and kisses him on the neck - 'Father', here he goes, the spiel, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son', but where does it stop? 'But the father said to his servants...'. What did he plan to say? He planned to say 'Make me as one of your hired servants' - but father interrupts him. I don't know of anywhere else in Scripture where there is a picture of God interrupting anybody, but he interrupts him here. He says: ''Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found'. And they began to be merry' - that's wonderful!
Can I ask you: do you relate to God as a son or a daughter to a Father, or as a slave to a bondmaster? That's a real diagnostic question as to whether you are living under grace or under law: do you know God as your Abba Father? Oh, I love that name, there is so much wrapped up in it. A little Jewish boy, when his daddy got home from work, would run down the hall to the front door and wave his arms for daddy to lift him, and he would cry: 'Abba! Abba! Abba! Abba!'. This was the intimate, affectionate name that a wee toddler would have for his daddy. Now don't misunderstand what I'm saying here, I'm not saying we should be overfamiliar with God, or irreverent with God - and I'm not advocating calling God 'Daddy'. But what I am saying is: we ought to experience this intimacy of God as our Abba Father. Sometimes the reaction to talk like this is: 'That's too familiar', or 'That's irreverent' - and that's because you've never known it.
One of the greatest revelations I ever had was to sit in an armchair with my open Bible, and just say 'Abba, Abba, Abba Father' - to know the Spirit of God's Son rising up within my heart, crying 'Abba, Father'. John White says: 'It's a carnal sort of dignity that must go', that says we can't call God 'Abba', 'and a humble trust that is added instead. When you know Him as 'Abba', your faith will be simpler and clearer, your prayers at once reverent, intimate and informed'. Do you know who you are in Christ? Do you know who you are in Christ, that you're accepted in the well-beloved, that God is your Abba Father? You see, what legalism does is it distorts God and it turns Him into a cruel despot, and a harsh legislator, that we're all shaking in our boots. Now don't, please, misquote me. I believe in the fear of God, but it's not that type of terrified fear - perfect love casts out all fear. It's a reverential fear, and in fact scholars tell us that the concept of fear in the Old Testament can be understood directly as the concept of faith in the New Testament.
Not only have legalists given us a warped view of God as our Father - I'm almost finished, hang in there - but sometimes our earthly fathers have given us a wrong concept of Heavenly Father. Do you remember on, was it Sunday night, I talked about how earthly relationships are meant to be signposts toward heavenly ones - and sometimes we stop at the signposts and just enjoy the earthly ones, when they are meant to point us to God. Well, our earthly fathers were meant to point us to Heavenly Father - but maybe you, tonight, had an absent father, or a father that was too busy for you, or distant and disinterested. You see, what happens is: when you say 'Father' then to you, you don't have a lovely warm gushy feeling in your soul. Maybe you recoil at the memories of what your father was like, and you superimpose that concept on God as your Father, and you don't have that warmth or that drawing. Maybe your father was insensitive, uncaring, a demanding taskmaster, passive and cold, never satisfied with what you ever achieved. Maybe he was impatient, or angry, mean or cruel. Maybe he was even abusive. Maybe you saw him, as a kid or a teenager, as trying to take all the fun out of life; he was controlling and manipulative, condemning, unforgiving, nitpicking - and you find it hard to think of God as anything else. I honestly believe many evangelicals are like this.
Do you want to know what Abba Father in heaven is like? Do you want to know what your Father in heaven is like? Look at Jesus. 'Philip', He said: 'Have I been so long time with you, and when you see Me do you not see the Father?'. Everything that Jesus is, that is the Father's heart to us. You're saying: 'Oh I want, I would love such an intimate relationship with Abba Father'. Listen, this is God's word: you have it! You have it! It has been bought by the precious blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, and by faith in salvation you have entered into it - but you must, by faith, take it and believe it and enjoy it! You'll never enjoy it if you insist on living by law. You'll live like a slave, but you've got to live like a son or a daughter - by grace through faith.
In the US Civil War over the issue of slavery Charles Sumner, on November 5, 1864, drew the battle lines between the two warring sides and declared, listen: 'Where slavery is, there liberty cannot be. Where liberty is, there slavery cannot be' - that is the message of Galatians, and that is life as God intends for His people, for you. This is the how of holiness - do you know how holiness is achieved? It's not by putting all these legalistic boundaries around you - listen carefully, this might be one of the most important statements you'll ever hear in your life, it certainly was for me: what you do - D-O - what you do does not determine who you are; who you are in Christ, by grace through faith, determines what you do. That's why Paul is at pains in the book of Ephesians, for the first three chapters, to argue: 'This is who you are in Christ, in heavenly places', and that's why verse 1 of chapter 4 is: 'Now walk worthy of the calling wherewith you are called'.
What you do does not determine who you are. We're not trying to achieve acceptance with God, but we're trying, by grace through faith in Christ, to live out what He has deposited in us by the Holy Spirit. You see, holiness is not based on performance - but as we've said right from Sunday night, it's based, like the whole Christian life, on relationship - a law of love. Do you know what Augustine said about holiness? This might shock some of you, he said: 'Love God, and do what you like'. Do what you like? Aye, do what you like - because if you truly love God with all your soul, with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your strength, what you do is what God will love. That's the law of love, the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus that sets us free from the law of rules and regulations.
Paul quoted Habakkuk, chapter 3 and verse 11: 'The just shall live by faith'. It's quoted three times in the New Testament, it's quoted in the book of Romans, and the emphasis is on the first two words 'The just' - how to be made right with God - 'The just shall live by faith'. It's then quoted in the book of Hebrews, and the emphasis is on the last two words, that great book of faith, 'The just shall live by faith'. But it's quoted here in Galatians, and the emphasis is on the middle two words, 'The just shall live by faith'. You cannot live by law, you will die. You only live by faith.
Can I ask you tonight - I'm not asking what denomination you are, I'm not asking what you believe about A-B-C - I'm asking you this, listen: do you have a personal faith-based relationship with Abba Father, through abiding in Jesus Christ His Saviour Son, through obedience to His word by the power and the person of the Holy Spirit? For that's the life that God intended for you.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at Leaney Mission Hall in Ballymoney, Northern Ireland, by David Legge. It was transcribed from the third recording in his 'Life As God Intends For His People' series, entitled "Life Of Grace Not Of Law" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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