How are we? Okay, if you have your Bibles, go ahead and grab them. Galatians, chapter 5, is where we’re going to be. If you’re a guest with us today, I’m glad you’re here. If you don’t have a Bible, there should be a black hardback one somewhere around you. If you don’t own one, that’s our gift to you. I say this (everybody always thinks I’m joking), but if you want a nicer one, then you can go to the Lost and Found, and there are all sorts of leather-bound Bibles in there. Feel free to take those, maybe even some journals. So check that out if you want one.
We started the book of Galatians the first weekend in February, and we are getting near to the end of the book. In fact, the weekend before the last weekend in June, Lord willing, will be our final weekend in the book of Galatians. I’ll tell you really what my hope was coming into the study of this book and what my belief is about where you should be if you have been engaged at any real level, whether that’s consistent attendance on our weekend services, but even more especially if not only you have been here on the weekend services, but if you’re a part of our home groups where we’ve been going into much greater depth in study of this book through the guide we put together with the help of Redeemer Presbyterian up in Manhattan.
So if you’ve done either of those two things, if you’ve consistently attended on the weekends or you’ve done that on top of being a part of one of our home groups, you should have, moving forward for the rest of your life, clear lenses and a clear vernacular upon which to discuss and understand the gospel of Jesus Christ. The term gospel for you should no longer be a junk drawer. It shouldn’t really be if you’re talking about Jesus you’re talking about the gospel, but really you have a clear understanding of what it is and what it’s not.
Now that’s important because there are a lot of things that parade as the gospel that aren’t ultimately the gospel. So if you believe in a shadow of the gospel but not the gospel, you don’t believe in the gospel. If the gospel of Jesus Christ is “the power of God unto salvation,” then it’s important that we know not a shadow of the gospel, but the gospel itself. So I’ve loved the study of this book because it’s going to lay out before you, “This is exactly what the gospel is. If you’re over here, that’s not the gospel. If you’re over here, that’s not the gospel.” So the very first weekend in February, we simply discussed really that there are two great errors that occur among church folk, and really among all peoples, when it comes to the gospel of Jesus Christ and when the gospel is proclaimed.
Let me just very, very quickly lay out what the gospel of Jesus Christ is. You and I are sinners. We have all fallen short of the glory of God. We do not measure up to the holiness God requires. Not us in our worst, but we at our best are still not righteous enough for the favor and justification of God Almighty. So God in Christ makes a way. He imputes to us the righteousness of Christ. Your righteousness is inadequate, so if you could check off all those things on your box of what Christians do, the Bible still says your righteous deeds are as filthy rags to him. So we’re going to need a righteousness that goes well beyond our own righteousness, and we get that in Jesus Christ.
Jesus gives to us his perfection. He gives to us his righteousness. Then on top of that, on the cross of Christ Jesus takes from us the wrath of God due us for our rebellion against him. So you have imputed righteousness, wrath-absorbing death, and in the resurrection we see the great exchange is complete. Here is the most spectacular part of it all: You didn’t do anything to get that. So God saved you. God rescued you. God opened up your heart. God revealed this to you. You played no part in your salvation except glad submission.
I know some of you would disagree and go, “No. Man, I walked down the aisle. I shook my pastor’s hand. I said back to him what he told me to say back to him, and that’s what I did.” Here is what I would tell you. Biblically, God saved you in your seat, which is why you got up. I’m not taking from you that you said, “Excuse me, excuse me, excuse me,” and walked down an aisle. I’m not taking that from you. You did. Congratulations. I’m telling you the only reason you did that is because God opened up your heart in the seat to want to love him and want to follow him.
So justification and salvation occurred while you were sitting down because if salvation occurred because you repeated a prayer, that’s witchcraft, not Christianity. That’s a mantra, and God can’t be controlled with mantras. You were saved in your seat. So the great news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is God saves. God did this despite you and for you. He justified you and adopted you as sons and daughters. So not only do you have a just judge who declares you holy, blameless, and spotless, but you have an adopting Father who delights in and cares for you deeply.
When people hear that, they’re prone to one of two errors. Maybe they don’t start in these errors, but they tend to drift in these two errors. The error is, “Man, that’s just way too easy. There is just no way all I have to do is trust and believe in Jesus Christ and I’m saved and made holy. Surely I have to help God out.” So what ends up happening is you have a whole swatch of evangelicals who are “Jesus plus” something. So it’s “Jesus plus” these behaviors. Those behaviors really are built out by whatever tribe you’re in. So if you are in a kind of hyper-fundamentalist crowd, hyper-fundamentalist church, then that can be “Jesus plus” a whole slew of things.
“Jesus plus” doing these things, not doing these things, going to these places, not going to these places. It can be something as simple as “Jesus plus” homeschooling your kids. It’s “Jesus plus” these kinds of movies. It’s “Jesus plus” this kind of language. I’m not trying to start a denominational or theological war here, but it can be “Jesus plus” baptism. “Jesus plus” the church. Right? This is what ends up happening. We become “Jesus plus” something.
Paul said at the very beginning of this book, “If anyone preaches a gospel other than the one I proclaim to you, which is Christ and Christ alone, that we are saved by faith alone through grace alone, let him be accursed. In fact, even if an angel says this, let him be accursed.” So really the thing we need to settle on here is that’s not the gospel. “Jesus plus” anything ceases to be the gospel, right?
Then there are other people who don’t walk in that error. They don’t tend to drift toward that; although, I think that’s the bulk of people. Some people hear that and go, “Oh, you mean Jesus will forgive me no matter what? You mean no matter what I do God is going to cover that because of Jesus? Man, I’ll do whatever I want then. I’ll do whatever I want, and Jesus will forgive me.” So now you have this whole demographic of people who attend church on the weekends but ultimately have not had their lives transformed in any way, have no real affection for Jesus Christ, and have no submission to who he is. They simply go to church, call themselves Christians, and trust one day Jesus is going to cover all of that. Paul would also go, “Yeah, that’s not the gospel either.”
So you have these two great errors, and the book is going to start to turn on us a little bit. I don’t know if you picked up on this, but the first four chapters were basically the same sermon over and over and over again. It’s literally the first four chapters are like a song on repeat. He just is pounding it into hearts and minds. Now the book is going to take a little bit of a shift, but I believe the shift is spectacular. This first shift kind of is a flyover of stuff we’ve already covered. So let’s look at it.
Galatians, chapter 5. We’re going to pick it up in verse 1. We’re going to go, Lord willing, through verse 15. If you’re a guest with us, it’s read a little bit, talk, read a little bit, talk, read a little bit, talk. So let’s read a little bit, and then we’ll talk. Galatians 5, starting in verse 1: “For freedom Christ has set us free.” Okay, stop. Now if you’re thinking, We’re getting through 15 verses, and you’re not even making it through the first sentence… Trust me. They’ll bunch up as we go on. There are sentences in the Bible that if you’ll really get it, if the Holy Spirit will enable your heart to get it, it will change everything. This is one of them. “For freedom Christ has set us free.”
So what I want to do is I want to explain it backwards. So we have been set free. So we have been set free by the gospel of Jesus Christ. By the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we’ve been set free. So if we followed kind of this narrative of the book, what have we been set free from? Well I would say there are two primary things Galatians teaches we’re set free from.
1. Empty religion. Are you with me? So we’re set free from empty religion, a passionless religion, an empty, emotive religion, a type of nuanced, I’m going to do these things. There is no joy in it. There is no life in it. There is no passion. Don’t think I’m talking personality types because we’re all over the grid on personality types.
There are some of you who at your pinnacle of excitement look like me napping. So we’re not talking personality types; we’re talking a state of the heart, a joy in. So there should be an immense amount of joy in religion if it’s the religion of the Bible. So empty religion would be a joyless, lifeless practice of religion that is not hemmed in and hewed into the person and work of Jesus Christ.
2. Fear-based behavioral modification. This is very important. So let me help you with that. The reason so many of us are trying to be better, we’re trying not to do these things, we’re trying to do these things… Really the motivation behind all of it is fear. “If I don’t do this, if I don’t go here, if I don’t say this, if I don’t do this, God is going to get me. I know what my dad did when I didn’t do what he said. I can only imagine the infinite Sovereign One. If I got a spanking for that, I can’t imagine what I’m getting for this.”
So everything driving our behavioral modification is fear. We have been set free from empty religion and fear-based behavior modification. If we’re going to stay true to the book of Galatians, not only have we been set free from fear-based behavior modification, but we have also been set free from the vain pursuit of pleasures that never delivers what it promises. If I could just simplify that sentence I would just say we get set free from being our own God.
Now in 20 years of ministry I’ve never come across anyone who would vocalize, “Yeah, I think I’m my own God. I’m God.” Never heard anybody say it. I’ve met thousands who live that way. So when you’re God, you put an impossible weight on yourself. If you’re your own God, you have to answer all the big questions or just let those questions gnaw on you. What’s your purpose in life? Tell me our culture is not trying to answer that question. So we seek it in work. We seek it in relationships. We seek it in children. We seek it in accomplishments. We seek it in all these areas where it does not work.
What do you do with suffering and loss? Because that’s a part of everyone’s life already, or it’s coming for you. You have to figure that out. You’re all on your own. If you’re God, you have to get to the bottom of that. If you’re God, you have to rely on you for everything. Galatians is going to say, “Oh no, no, no, no. You’ve been set free from that. You don’t have to be God because there is one.” Now here is the part of the text I love. So we’ve been set free for what purpose? Freedom. It’s for freedom that you’ve been set free, which means not only have we been saved from something, but we’ve been saved to something.
I’ve found in my conversations with a lot of people that this is the part that hasn’t really sunk in. We would freely acknowledge we’ve been saved from. We’ve been saved from hell. We’ve been saved from our sins. We’ve been saved from condemnation. We get that. Few of us get that we’ve been saved to. So what have we been saved to? Well, from last week and the week before and the week before, we’ve been saved to the freedom of knowing God’s affection for us does not waver despite our persistent failures and shortcomings.
We’ve been set free to enjoy that and set free to walk in that. We’ve been set free to pursue at the highest level the pleasures that bring about life, vitality, and real living as opposed to the enslaved type of pleasure that carries with it the aftertaste of guilt and shame. If we could boil freedom down into a single sentence, freedom is ultimately being able to do what I want most. So if you try to block from people what they want to do most, they feel as though you’ve taken their freedom from them. So what the Bible just said is in Jesus Christ you have been set free from in order to walk in the freedom to.
Look where he goes next in this. “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Now you have been set free to enjoy freedom. You have been set free from; therefore, you have been set free to. Therefore, stand firm. So what does this mean? Now we’re going to have real church here, which means we’re going to have to be honest with each other. I find myself drifting. Does anybody else? I’ll wake up, and all of a sudden I’ll be trying to earn. I won’t be enjoying my freedom. I’ll be back trying to earn an affection the Bible says is already mine.
If I can be honest, there are sometimes I doubt that what God has done has actually set me free for freedom. Sometimes it feels like… Some of the lies I find myself believing are God is ultimately not about my freedom, but ultimately rather about taking from me some freedom I want. So he says in the text, “It’s for freedom you’ve been set free. Stand firm. Don’t get back under the yoke of slavery. Don’t do it.” So here is a paradigm shift I’m hoping you make in our study of the book of Galatians. The gospel of Jesus Christ is not just for people to be saved with; the gospel of Jesus Christ saves us and sustains us.
We don’t move on from the gospel. We preach the gospel to ourselves minute by minute some days, hour by hour, week by week, month by month, and year by year. From the moment he wakes up our hearts to it until the moment he calls us home completely, we make our stand in the gospel. I’m not up here ethereally with the churches in Galatia; I’m in this room. This room. Some of you need to stand firm in the gospel and not go back to the yoke of slavery.
So how would that work itself out? Some of you are absolutely trying to earn the favor of God. It’s exhausting. Then others of you, those of you who are wrestling with your flesh… Do you know what I mean by wrestling with your flesh? I don’t want to speak too “Christianese” and lose some of you. So if you don’t have a background in church, the Bible would say we are given a new heart. Then when we’re given a new heart by God through Christ, he begins to sanctify us, or make us holier and holier and holier.
So what that means is if this is holiness and this is where we get saved, as he moves us along you still have this gap right here. This gap is called the flesh. In some of us, that’s really strong, and in some of us, that’s not as strong. But all of us have flesh. So in that process of God taking from us more and more and more of the old man, more and more and more of the flesh, there are times we have to really wrestle the flesh. Do you know what I’m talking about in here? There are days, weeks, months, and hours where it feels like a sinful desire in our heart is almost overwhelming to us, like it’s almost impossible to say no to.
Paul is going to say, “No, you stand firm in that moment. You believe the gospel in that moment.” What some of you have done is in wrestling your flesh this week, you’ve come in here today, and you just don’t know if you can make it. You’re beginning to doubt whether or not really God is for your freedom. You’re beginning to doubt whether or not it is for freedom he has set you free, because in the wrestle, in the struggle you begin to slide to a doubt that God is really about your freedom and really about your joy.
You begin to feel as though he is some sort of overlord who is trying to mold you into something you’re not so your personhood actually is a trump card over the sovereign God of the universe’s design and plan for your life. Galatians here is saying, “No, no, no. You stand firm. Don’t get back under the yoke of slavery. Don’t put that thing back on. It’s for freedom you’ve been set free.”
Now look where he takes us next. Verse 2: “Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision…” Now again I just think we need to talk. If you’re a first-timer, that’s probably really strange to you. If you don’t have a background in church and all of a sudden we’re talking circumcision, I know some of you might be like, “Look, it’s over then. I was. I’m out. That’s probably over the line.” Just probably got myself a meeting with the elders. “Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision…” Circumcision to the Jews was an external action they believed brought about favor with God. So if they obeyed the law, if they did these external things…
If I could just boil it down, when he uses the term circumcision it’s talking about a religion that’s external. You can do these things external to you that bring about God’s acceptance and love of you. So it’s not an inside-out religion, but it’s an outside-in religion. So when it says circumcision, it’s putting salvation in your hands. You can do these things that earn the favor of God. What was being argued in the churches of Galatia by the Judaizers was in order for them to become Christians and be loved by Jesus Christ, they must first become Jews. They must be circumcised and obey the Jewish law.
If they would do that external to them, then they would be right before Jesus Christ. So they were “Jesus plus.” That was the argument. Paul is going to turn the argument on its head. “Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.”
Now he says, “If you want to do this, if you don’t want to be under grace but you rather want to be under the law, then you have to know in that moment you have no need for Jesus Christ. If you can save yourself by your own behavior, then you do not need a Savior.” Then he follows that up with a word of warning: “But just know those of you who want to be justified by the law, you’re now obligated to follow all of the law.” So why some of us like the law is because we think we can kind of pick the laws we’re going to do that day. “I’m going to take today, and I’m going to wear no lying and no coveting. I’m going to do really well at that today. So let me put that on. I’m not going to lie today. I’m not going to covet today.”
Then the next day you’re like, “I’m going to need to lie today. Probably going to need to covet because Bill got that promotion. So today, let’s not murder anyone and let’s not…” The Bible goes, “No, no, no. You want the law? You get all of it.” When she wants to be held, our 3-year-old daughter Norah says, “I hold you. I hold you.” I’ll mourn a little bit when she stops doing that, but I’m a literalist. You can tell by how I read the Bible. So when she says that, I just kind of get on her and put a little bit of my weight on her. Then she’ll giggle. This plays out about 40 times a day in our house.
She’ll giggle and then she’ll go, “No, no. You hold me.” Then I’ll pick her up and hold her. So that’s a fun little game, and we laugh. There would be no laughter from either one of us if I actually climbed on her because I’m going to be on the floor. She is going to be crushed underneath me. I’m not a giant guy, but I am 6’4, 200 pounds, and she is 3. Although she might be able to hold up a little if we’re playing around, she can’t hold up under the full weight of my body.
The law will crush anyone. You are not so disciplined, not so moral, or not so upright that you might be justified by the law alone. So did you see what he said? “You have no reason for Christ. You are obligated to obey the whole law.” Then he gets insanely bold. “You’re severed from Christ, and you’re out from under grace.” Now if you really read this in light of the book, you can see why Paul is so perplexed, baffled, and wondering who bewitched them, because that is an unbelievably moronic trade. Is there a more spectacular idea in the universe than grace?
Grace freely acknowledges our failures. It doesn’t try to gloss over our shortcomings. Grace acknowledges they’re there. Grace acknowledges you fall short. Grace acknowledges you’re going to continue to fall short. Grace acknowledges the struggles of where you are, what’s behind you, and really what’s coming for you. But what grace does is it acknowledges it while it covers it. Why you would want to walk out from under that freedom into the law, where grace is such a beautiful comfort… The law will never be a comfort. Grace is a comfort because it says, “God has paid the bill. You’re holy, spotless. You’re beloved by God.”
The law will never say that to you. The law will never whisper to you that you’re okay. The law will never whisper to you. The law does nothing but condemn. The law does nothing but point out your shortcomings. Grace will let you know you have shortcomings, but it covers those shortcomings. So there is a sweetness to grace pointing out your shortcomings that is not there with the law. So why you would ever want to walk out from underneath, “I acknowledge you have shortcomings, but I’ve made a way. I delight in you. I love you. I forgive you,” and get under what will do nothing but condemn you all the days of your life is why Paul is so perplexed.
He is like, “Why would you make this trade? Why would you want out from under grace?” Now it almost makes it sound like you could lose your salvation here, doesn’t it? Did you see that? If you do this, “you are severed from Christ.” So let me be real honest with you. The question in the Scriptures is never…Can you lose your salvation? but rather…Have you been saved to begin with? The Scriptures are very clear that you can have spiritual experiences and you can even have seasons of your life that you like the idea of Jesus, even passionately like the idea of Jesus, but not know him, love him, and follow him.
Let me give you one verse. I could give you many, and I know those of you who know your Bible well go, “What about Hebrews 6?” Okay, years ago I preached through the book of Hebrews. We did I think 58 minutes on Hebrews 6. You can find it online if you want to listen to that. Let me just read you this verse. This is 1 John 2:19: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.” So what the Bible teaches about salvation is if you are truly converted and saved, you persevere until the end. Where you are not truly converted you will not persevere until the end.
So here is what I would just be very frank and honest with you about right now. If 10 years from now I want nothing to do with Jesus Christ, I think this whole season of my life was a lie, I think I was just under a spell, I don’t know what I was thinking, I was ignorant… If I say that 10 years from now, then right now in this moment I do not know him. I am not in love with him. This is something else that is so deep in me I can’t spot it with my mind. Now I don’t believe that is going to happen, but what we find in the book of Jude is God holds us and keeps us in the gospel. So you can’t lose your salvation if you are saved, but you cannot be saved and pretend you are.
So the Bible is pretty clear that nothing can take you out of his hand. Now I’ve heard some people go, “That doesn’t mean you can’t climb out.” Yes, it does. If angels, demons, life, death, and principalities (visible and invisible) can’t pluck you out of his hands, then I’m guessing you can’t climb out. Maybe I’m crazy. Maybe I’m wrong about that, but if he has kind of built up the mighty fortress that blocks all the principalities of the universe, I’m guessing that includes your feeble strength. So you can’t lose your salvation, but you might not have it.
Now with all of that said, I do believe God wants us assured of our adoption as sons and daughters. He wants us to walk in the assurance of knowing him and delighting in him. But I know a consistent prayer in my life is, “Keep me. I don’t know what’s coming for me. Keep me. Keep me by your side. Keep me in tune with you. Keep me in your presence. Hold me in this place.” I wake up in the mornings grateful to be alive, asking for strength for the day, and asking God to keep me almost every morning. “Keep me, Lord. Keep me.” So I believe he wants you to be assured, but I’m trying to explain this “severed from Christ.”
He is saying there are going to be those who look like they’re in Christ who ultimately are not in Christ. Jesus doesn’t set against this, does he? He says, “Many will say to me on that day, ’Lord, Lord…’ But I say to you, ’Be apart from me, ye cursed, because I don’t know you.’” Now let’s look at where he goes next. This next part for me… There is some underlining to do in 6 and 7. Verse 6: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything…” So we talked about this a few months ago. Let’s be reminded. Let’s get it out of first-century Judaism and put it on the ground in Dallas, Texas.
So whether being a virgin when you get married or being promiscuous even after marriage counts for nothing. Drug use or no drug use counts for nothing. Born on the altar in church and first word is Jesus or born on a bar and didn’t know Jesus until recently counts as nothing. This means one doesn’t have the leg up over the other in regard to justification and in regard to right standing before God, which if you begin to think about it, really blows up any real position of pride you might be walking in because of your morality.
The Bible just said when it comes to justification before God, when it comes to your right standing before God, outward action or non-outward action holds no sway. Look what does. This is what I think you need to underline, circle, or asterisk by. I don’t know what you do. “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” So you need to circle that or underline it. What does count? “…faith working through love.” Let me tell you why that is such a big deal. Look at the next verse. “You were running well. Who hindered you from…” What? “…obeying the truth?”
So the only thing that counts is not external moral action, but only faith working through love. Then he goes on to say, “You were running well.” What does he mean by “running well”? You were being obedient. You were walking in obedience. You were obeying the law of God. “Who hindered you from obeying the truth?” Do you see the argument? It’s unreal. He is saying, “What’s keeping you from obeying the law is a belief that by obeying the law, God will love you.” So how do we obey the law? We said, even last week at the beginning, that being out from under the law does not mean we don’t obey the law.
In fact, it is the biblical expectation of all of us to be in perfect obedience to the law. This book is not about, “You don’t have to live holy lives. You don’t have to pursue holiness.” That’s not what this book is about. It’s about the motivation that gets us there. So what happens when you are enslaved, what happens when you haven’t been set free from and to, is you are fear-based in your motivation. So I better do these things in order to be what God wants me to be and in order to earn the favor of God.
When you’re operating from a fear-based motivation, you don’t get there. You keep falling short. But what he just said is when faith works through love, you run unhindered. This means the motivation for you and me in our pursuit of holiness is not fear, but faith. Faith in what? The gospel. Faith in the gospel produces love. Love is the motivating force of our behavioral modification. It’s not that we don’t walk in behavioral modification; it’s that the motivation for it is love. So here is how I believe it works.
As we think upon, dwell upon, and meditate upon the gospel of Jesus Christ… I’ll put that in the two pieces we’ve covered in Galatians. One is justification. God, the great Judge, bangs the gavel and declares you holy, blameless, and spotless in his sight. Then you have the adopting Father, that his Spirit inside of us allows us to cry, “Abba, Father.” So he not only forgives us but delights in us despite our persistent failures and persistent rebellions against him. If you meditate on that, think on that, and dwell on that, it doesn’t produce love if you don’t have faith in that.
But if you have faith in that, you actually believe that, you actually believe right now, not you later, not some future version of you, but you right now, you believe God looks at you and sees you as holy, spotless, and blameless and you know you’re not, when you believe God delights in you when you know there is not a lot of reason for him to delight in you, faith in that leads to a love that begins to motivate our behavior. We go, “You want me to live like what? Oh man, I’ll live like that. You want me to forsake that and run to that? Man, I’ll do that.” Love is a powerful motivating force.
I’m a married man. I do things all the time because I love my wife, not because I would do them if I did not love my wife. There is a joy that comes in service motivated by love that is not there in something motivated by fear. So if I keep it in the context of marriage, and I feel safe doing that because Ephesians 5 is going to say this relationship between Christ and his church is really what marriage is a shadow of, if I’m cleaning some stuff around the house because I’m afraid if Lauren gets home and sees that I didn’t, she is going to explode and we’re going to get in this huge fight, she is going to scream at me and maybe destroy something, then that’s a fear-based motivation that’s driving an action.
Do you think I’m joyful as I’m doing that? No. I’m just like, “Oh gosh, I better do this before she freaks out. Then who knows how that is going to end. The kids will see her turn into The Hulk, and then…” There is no joy in that. But if love drives that service, do you think I mind? Isn’t it a delight to serve when love is the motivation? It’s a delight to serve when love is the motivation. It’s not begrudging, because we’ve been set free from begrudging. Begrudging occurs when it’s fear-based. When it’s freedom-based, love is the motive, and it’s a joy to serve. It’s a joy to sacrifice. It’s a joy to give of one’s self.
What hinders our growing in holiness is trying to earn the love and favor of God by becoming holy ourselves. It’s not how it works. You can’t do it on your own. The more you try to own it, the less you’ll be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. The more you mediate on, think on, dream on, and turn your eyes upon the gospel of Jesus Christ, the more you’ll be transformed from one degree of glory to the next. It’s what the Bible says.
All right, now he is going to get very, very serious here. By the way, before we get serious, look at verse 8. “This persuasion is not from him who calls you.” So if your obedience to the Word of God is for any other reason except for gospel-motivated love, then this persuasion isn’t from Christ. You have a different motive in your obedience if that motivation is not love. He is going to help us with that here in a minute. So now he gets really serious.
“A little leaven leavens the whole lump. I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed.” Verse 12 is the most aggressive verse in the Bible. “I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!” No matter what I’ve ever said from the stage, I can always point to that and go, “Man, I’m not as bad as the Bible.”
So here is where it just got really serious. You have this strong argument that how we become holy people is not by trying to earn the favor of God, but by resting in who God has said we are. Love becomes our motivation versus fear. Then he warns us that just a little leaven will work through the whole lump. Just a little bit of, “Do this,” just a little bit of, “Get this,” just a little bit of, “Add this,” really perverts and robs from us motivation of love to follow him. It does not take much to move us from a motivation of love to a motivation of fear, does it? It doesn’t take much at all.
I continually want to lay before you that really in that moment where you blow it, you have this really beautiful opportunity to marvel at the gospel. When your heart goes to a place it shouldn’t, when your mind goes to a place it shouldn’t, when your external actions go to a place you know is forbidden, you have this opportunity to just marvel at the gospel. Just marvel at it. Marvel that you didn’t surprise God, like God didn’t see that one coming.
You have this chance to just slow down and rest in, “He calls me holy. He calls me blameless. He calls me spotless. Even in this he delights in me.” “A little leaven leavens the whole lump.” Paul is pointing out, “Hey, I’m being persecuted because I’m preaching to you the gospel and I’m not preaching to you circumcision.” Then he points out really what Paul has pointed out several times in this book. He just does it graphically. Those who want to put the law as an acid test for whether or not God loves them don’t measure up to their own acid test. They fall short of what they would need to be if this is true themselves. So even the teacher can’t master the curriculum.
Now he gets us into how we can get to the bottom of what our motivation is, so let’s look at that starting in verse 13. “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh…” Okay, so remember almost this entire sermon has been over here, the “Jesus plus” people. The “Jesus plus” people have had their argument dismantled. Now he is going over to this mistake, and he is going, “Do not use your freedom [the freedom you’ve been given to be free] as an opportunity for your flesh. Don’t go, ’Well, if he is going to forgive me, I’ll do whatever I want.’”
Look at what he says: “Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love…” Isn’t that the exact same language he used earlier when he said circumcision and uncircumcision count for nothing, but only faith working through love? So we’re on this same idea. “…as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ’You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.”
Okay, so how can we kind of draw in and see what our motivation is? That water gets murky, doesn’t it? If we’re honest, What is my motivation? is a difficult question. There are times we can’t get to the bottom of our hearts. What is our motivation in our service to God, in our pursuit of holiness? What is our motivation? Now that’s an important question since I have just spent the last 40 minutes pointing you to the Bible where the Bible is saying if your motivation is fear, if your motivation is not love, then you’re outside the gospel.
So how can we tell what our motivation is? Well the acid test it gives us here is simple. How do you view other people, specifically those who are a part of the community of faith? Do you see what he did here? He said, “Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love…” What? “…serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ’You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” So here is what happens. One of the most spectacular things about the gospel of Jesus Christ is it sets us free to celebrate other people, to make much of other people, and to love other people’s gifts.
When we see other people excelling, we get to rejoice in that. What an evidence of the grace of God. How spectacular is God that they’re moving in a life like that. When other people fail, when other people fall, we get to grieve, and we get to cry out on their behalf, because our standing before God, how God feels about us, cares about us, loves us, seeks us, is not tied to them at all, but rather to Jesus Christ. So that sets us free to rejoice in other people.
Now when you’re walking in fear-based motivation, that is absolutely not true. When you are walking in a fear-based motivation, other people’s growth is a threat because it shows you where you are in comparison to other people in maturity. So other people maturing actually is threatening to you, and (God help us) other people’s failures make us a little glad. God, they’re human. Thank you.
So how can you spot fear-based motivation? Fear-based motivation does not seek to serve, to outdo and honor other people, to not encourage, to not rejoice in successes, to not be glad for spiritual growth, and to not be glad for gifts of God in the lives of others. It sees other brothers and sisters not as co-heirs, but as competition, like two kids trying to earn the approval of Daddy. It sets us against each other and not for one another. So I think the question we have to get to the bottom of today for your heart and for my heart in this text is really…What is our motivation in holiness and the pursuit of holiness? Here is how I would just line it out for you biblically:
If you ultimately long to be holy, hope to be holy, hate the sin in your life, and are struggling to get there but keep falling short, and you’re in this kind of weird cycle where you kind of run to God for a season, then you run away to clean yourself up, then you run back to God, then you kind of run away when you screw up, and then you run back… If you have yourself in that cycle, I’m telling you, you’re walking in a fear-based religion that does not quite understand that God has already decreed you as holy and blameless. He has, in his adopting work, decreed to the universe that you are his and he delights in you, is proud of you, loves you, and cherishes you. You are a co-heir with Christ of all he has.
Where you spot people who love to serve the body, who love to encourage other people, who love to point away from themselves to other people, who love to serve in any capacity to make things better for other people, you find people who find their gospel motivation in love and not fear. May God get us all there. May we be a place that reeks of being motivated by love that works itself out in, “How can I serve you? How can I rejoice in what God is doing in you? How can I love you more fully? How can I make things easier for you here at the church?”
All of life might be too big, but we can just pull it down to our covenant community of faith. If you look at how you interact with people here…Is the church here for you or have you been brought here to help the church? Those are two different ways of seeing it. One would be kind of fear-based. “I need. People need to give to me.” It’s an entitlement. “I deserve. It’s about me.” The other has been set free from all of that and just says, “How can I give? How can I encourage? How can I push?” So are you walking in fear, or are you walking in love?
The beckoning call of the book of Galatians is to get out of slavery and to get into sonship. The offer on the table for all of us is that in glad submission to Jesus Christ, we are sons and daughters and no longer slaves. We have been set free from fear-based behavioral modification into love-motivated pursuit of what we want most. We have been set free from the pursuit of pleasure that has, as an aftertaste, guilt and shame into the pursuit of pleasure that leads to ever-increasing joy. That’s not a dumb trade. You’d be foolish to go, “I’ll just take being obligated to the whole of the law.” That would be a foolish decision. It’s heartbreaking to me that some of you will choose it. Let’s pray.
Holy Spirit, I just ask for your help today, that you would open up eyes and you would open up hearts. I know some have come in and have failed to believe the gospel for themselves. They have not stood firm. They have placed themselves back under the yoke of slavery rather than walking in the freedom you came to set them free from. So I pray, Jesus, that you would help them see that being obligated to the law and pulling themselves out from under grace to put on a yoke of slavery is a foolish move.
So for my brothers and sisters, I pray for repentance, a crying out of need for Jesus, not a severing from Jesus. I pray this morning for those who are not believers, that you would open up their hearts to the reality that your desire is not to bind them, but to free them. So regardless of background, regardless of how they’ve come into this place today, that you would lead them into the freedom that you set them free to enjoy. It’s for your beautiful name I pray, amen. Love you guys.