Hey, if you have a Bible, turn to Galatians 3. That’s where we’re going to be tonight. In particular, we’re going to be looking at verses 10-14. If you didn’t get my weekly email this week, if you’re not on that, I’d love for you to get it every week. It’s one of the primary ways we communicate. What I said in there was Matt is gone this weekend and next weekend.
This weekend he was in Seattle. Next weekend I don’t know where he’s going to be, but he will not be here. I know that. If you’re new to our campus, if you’re new to The Village, what happens the weeks when he’s gone, when he’s out teaching in various places, is it gives us an opportunity at the campus to read the Scriptures together, to think about some of the things we think about every week a little bit more specific to us as a campus within our congregation, so I always love doing that.
I miss Matt when he’s gone, obviously, like you do, but I love having the opportunity to preach to you, or one of the other pastors on staff having the opportunity to preach to you, just because it’s good, as a pastor, to look out and go, “I know you. I know who you are. Not all of you, of course, but I love you. I pray for you.” The opportunity to think through God’s Word with you is always a joy, and so I’ve been really excited about this week and, of course, next week as well.
If you’ve not been here the entire spring… Perhaps this is your first time to ever come to one of our services. I met a person beforehand who had just moved back from out of state, and this was the first time she had been here in a number of years. What we’ve done the entire spring, as a church, is we have decided to study this little letter called Galatians that Paul wrote to a group of churches in what is now modern-day Turkey. He wrote this letter 2,000 years ago, and we’ve decided to take the entire spring and study through this letter verse by verse, and so that’s what we’ve been doing.
We’ve worked our way through part of the first three chapters, and find ourselves tonight in chapter 3, verses 10-14. Before we jump right in, I want to just kind of remind you (or inform you, maybe for the first time) of what this letter is about. Sometimes I think because we chop up these letters we study in the Bible into 12-week sermon series…which is not bad to do. It’s great to do that. We should do that. I’m thankful we do that, but sometimes I feel like we chop them up both here at our service, and we come in and we talk about 10 verses here, and then the next week we talk about 10 verses, and the next week we talk about 10 verses, and we’re doing the same thing in our home group.
Sometimes I really think we forget it’s a letter and that Paul probably wasn’t thinking about The Village Church, in 2012, splitting up his letter into 12 different chunks. He didn’t write it with that in mind. Again, it’s right and good that we do that, but he wrote it as a letter, and the churches that received it received it as a letter, and they would have, in their gatherings, probably in houses, gotten the letter he wrote and read it aloud in one sitting. They didn’t have Xerox machines. Not everybody had a copy. One person would get it. They would read it.
What I’m getting at is there is a main thesis Paul wants to get across in the letter. Now we’re spending a lot of time pausing and talking about individual verses, but I don’t want us to miss the forest for the trees, and I think it’s very easy to do that. I honestly think if we understand the whole of the letter, kind of at a bird’s-eye view, it helps us to know what’s going on when we get down into the street level. Does that make sense?
I just want to encourage you to think about, with me, tonight, before we jump into verses 10-14… We’re halfway through the letter. I think it’s a great point to stop, to pull back a little bit, and go, Okay. Let’s remind ourselves what this letter is about, and then we can reengage and know with a little bit more clarity what these verses are about in terms of the whole letter. This entire letter (if you’ve missed the series, or even if you’ve just not been clear about what this letter is about), Paul’s purpose is to make a clear distinction between the gospel of Jesus Christ he had preached to these people and the false gospel others were now preaching to them.
If you know the story, Paul went into this area and he planted these churches. He opened his mouth, he shared the gospel, people put their faith in Christ, and he started these churches. Then he left to go tell the gospel to other people and plant other churches. After he left, these teachers had come into these churches he had planted and they began to tell a different message than the one he preached. So Paul has caught wind of this, and now he wrote this letter to tell these young Christians to not believe this message these other people were preaching, and he is very bold in how he does this, as we’ve seen as we’ve studied these first three chapters.
But he loves these young churches. He loves these young Christians, and he doesn’t want them to believe a false gospel. He doesn’t want them to shrink back from believing the true gospel he had preached to them, and so he wrote this letter to exhort, admonish, and warn them not to do that. The primary point, the primary argument he makes throughout the entire letter is we’re saved by grace, not by works, period. That’s what he’s wanting to get across to them.
We’re saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, not by our moral efforts, not by our moral achievements, not by anything else. The only way we’re made right with God, that we can be declared innocent and holy by a holy God, is through faith, not through anything else. This is the drum he beats over and over and over again, and it’s a drum he’s beating because these false teachers were saying, “No. The way you’re saved is by, yeah, putting your faith in Jesus, and doing this,” and so he is intent on getting this point across to the Galatians. Just a cursory reading, an overview of the letter will show you that.
If you have a Bible, look in chapter 1, verse 6 with me, and I’ll just run through three or four verses here that are kind of high points of the letter to just show how clear what Paul is trying to get across in this letter is. It’s the same thing. In chapter 1, verse 6, he says, “I am astonished…” This is how he begins his letter. “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel…”
That’s how he begins his letter. That’s what he wants to talk about. “You’re turning to a different gospel. I don’t want you to do that. In fact, I’m shocked that you’re doing that.” Look at chapter 2, verse 16. He says, “…we know that a person is not justified…” That’s a big word that means declared righteous by God. “…a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus…”
In chapter 2, verse 21, he says, “For if justification could happen through the law and be attained through our moral excellence, our moral efforts, then Jesus Christ died for no purpose. If you could do it on your own, if you could, as these false teachers are saying, be made right with God by your own effort, then Jesus Christ didn’t need to come.” That’s what he said in verse 21 of chapter 2. Even last week, the verses we read… In chapter 3, verse 7, he says, “Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.” The “sons of Abraham” is another way to say, “who are truly the people of God.” The people of God are those who have put their trust in Christ by faith.
So in even just a cursory overview of the high points of this letter thus far, you see over and over and over again this point he’s trying to get across. His burden for these churches is clear as you read this letter. He’s pleading for them to hold onto the true gospel, reminding them we’re made right with God, we’re forgiven of our sins, we’re declared innocent and pure by him only by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Or, as one pastor has succinctly put it in a way I think is helpful to remember, “Jesus plus nothing equals everything,” when it comes to salvation, when it comes to justification. That’s what Paul is saying. Jesus plus nothing equals everything.
These other people were preaching a message that is, “No, it’s Jesus plus this or that.” Namely, for them, it was circumcision, or eating this food, or not eating this food. Paul is going, “That’s not the gospel. That’s a false gospel. The gospel is Jesus plus nothing equals everything. We’re justified by faith, period.” All the other arguments, and all the other points Paul makes in this letter are only meant to supplement and validate this overarching argument and point.
Which is why, if you’ve been here for the entire series, you feel like it’s the same sermon. It’s because it is. That’s the point he wants to get across. It’s impossible to get away from it. Now he’s saying it in different ways. He’s going to come at it from this angle, he’s going to come at it from that angle, and he’s going to come at it from that angle, but he’s saying and getting at the same thing. “Don’t put your faith in your own ability to be made right with God through your morality. Put your faith in what Jesus Christ has done. It’s the only thing that can save you.”
I think it’s just important to think about that big picture, and it will help us tonight as we read verses 10-14, because here’s what I want you to hear. I don’t just want you to come in here and read along with Galatians as Matt preaches it and think it’s great. It’s a good sermon, and it preached well. I’m wanting you, as you join with us every week, to learn how to read the Scriptures yourself, so that’s part of why I just spent 10 minutes belaboring this point. It’s because I want you to learn how to read the letter.
I want you to be able to walk away and if somebody asks you, two or five years from now, “What’s Galatians about?” you can tell them, “Galatians is about how we’re justified by faith, not by works. Paul just hammers it home, over and over again. Do you want to read it with me? I’d love to study through it with you.” Let’s look at the verses now, kind of with that framework and remembering that main point. Let’s see what he says in verses 10-14. We’ll read them, and then we’ll pray, and then we’ll walk through them verse by verse.
In chapter 3, verse 10, he says, “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ’Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.’ Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for ’The righteous shall live by faith.’ But the law is not of faith, rather ’The one who does them shall live by them.’ Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ’Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.” Let’s pray.
Father, as I’ve asked in every service today, I pray that you would come and make our hearts soft to this message…not my message, but the message Paul is getting across in these verses. I pray specifically for those in this room who are Christians who have, perhaps, studied these verses and heard them preached on a number of times, but for sure have heard the message of the gospel a thousand times, that we would not, at a distance, sit back tonight and just engage mentally, but that our hearts would be ministered to by this news of what Christ has done for us.
I pray as well for those in this room tonight who are not Christians, that for various and very valid reasons they have yet to put their faith and hope in Jesus Christ. I pray that you might, tonight, make clear to them what the true message of Christianity is, and that as they hear it, that their faith would be awakened and rooted in Christ. So minister to us, Father. Just be gracious to come now and help us. We ask it in Jesus’ name, amen.
Well, if you were here last week, verses 10-14, that we just read, are a continuation of the train of thought we began last week where Paul, from chapters 1-3, he has been talking about this reality. “We’re justified by faith. We’re justified by faith. We’re saved by faith, by grace, not by works.” Then at the start of chapter 3, he actually says, “…and it has always been this way.” If you remember last week, if you were here, he uses the example of Abraham.
Basically, what he says, just like he does in the letter to the Romans (if you want to go read Romans 4)… He holds up Abraham and says, “Listen. The forefather of the faith, the very beginning of the people of God… He was saved by grace through faith as well. He wasn’t saved by his moral effort. He wasn’t saved by his goodness or his achievements, morally. He was saved by faith.” What Paul is saying is, “It has always been that way. The people of God have always been saved by faith. The message I preach to you, it’s not something that is new. It has been testified to throughout the ages.”
That’s the train of thought we’re entering back into. In verses 10-14, he doesn’t stray away from that. It’s not like he goes to a new point. He’s in the same train of thought. In fact, in verse 14, Abraham comes up again, and the reason why is because he is finishing his thought, but in verses 10-13, Paul actually kind of has a sub-argument within the argument he’s making about Abraham. What he does in these verses is brilliant.
What he’s going to do is take the Old Testament and prove to the people who are teaching this false message, and the people who are prone and tempted to believe the false message, that the Old Testament (which is what they’re basing their entire hope for salvation on, being obedient to it) actually teaches them not to do that. He’s going to use their own framework and their own foundation to prove to them why their system of belief doesn’t make sense.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been in an argument with somebody who is smarter than you. It’s not fun. Every time I argue with my wife, that’s the case, but it is just embarrassing. You’re vulnerable. It’s just not a good thing, right? You’re just obviously not going to win. It doesn’t matter even if you’re right. You’re just not going to win because they’re so much smarter than you. I don’t know, even a step further, if you’ve ever been in an argument with somebody who can actually, because they’re so much smarter than you, take what you’re saying and prove how it disproves what you’re saying and validates their point.
Have you ever had that happen? It’s terrifying. I just go into the room and pull back for a while and just am quiet. I’m just humbled into silence, and typically try to work myself into feeling better about myself before I can show face again. That’s actually what Paul is going to do here. He’s going to, in a really brilliant way, take the law, the very thing they’re looking to to save them, and say, “The law teaches that it can’t save you,” and he’s going to do that in verses 10-13.
Before we walk through these verses, I do want you to see that in these four verses, particularly in verses 10 and 11, he describes two types of people. In verse 10, he describes a type of person who relies on works of the law, on their obedience to God’s commands, on their morality and their moral achievement. There are the people who rely on works of the law to make them righteous, and then there’s another group of people, and these are people (in verse 11) who rely on their faith to make them righteous. The righteous who live by faith (coming out of Habakkuk 2).
There are two camps of people, and part of what he’s saying in these verses is the two messages (the message he preached and the false gospel these other people are preaching) are so fundamentally different, they’re so contradictory that they actually create two different types of people. In other words, if you believe this message, you’re going to be one type of person, a type of person who is relying on works of the law to make you right before God. If you believe the true gospel, you’re going to be a different type of person, a type of person who is living by faith.
What he’s getting at is these messages, what you believe, which message you rely on and live by…it matters, and it has eternal consequences for your life. “Based on what you believe,” Paul is going to say, “you’re going to either wind up eternally blessed by God or eternally cursed.” Friends, that should be sobering to us tonight. It should be sobering to think about the fact that whatever message we choose to believe and live by completely affects the trajectory of our lives, both now and eternally.
We all live by and root our lives in a message, a view of the world. Every single one of us does, even the person who says they don’t have one. That’s their worldview; they don’t have one, and they’re basing their life on it. I wonder (and maybe it would just be good for you to stop and think about this here for a minute) what message you, today, this week, are living by. I wonder what message you’re putting your faith in. Because you are, it is completely shading and shaping all of your circumstances, all of your emotions, all of your logic…everything about you. It’s shaping every relationship you’re in.
What message are you living by? Let’s read why it matters. In verse 10, Paul says, “For all who rely on works of the law [to make them righteous] are under a curse…” That’s a pretty strong word choice here. “…curse…” That’s the way he’s going to start off this little sub-argument within his argument. Those who live by the law, who are relying on their obedience to the law, their own moral achievements, to make them right with God, are under a curse. The meaning of the word is actually as bad as it sounds. The word actually means, in the Hebrew, devoted to damnation, or devoted to destruction.
It doesn’t get any better in the New Testament. The word in the New Testament means the same thing, something that’s doomed, or something that’s devoted to destruction. So those who rely on the law, who are believing this message that there’s another way to be made right with God except faith in Jesus Christ, are under a curse. That’s what Paul is saying. A great, natural question to ask (I think) is…Why? Why is that the case? I can just imagine the Galatians sort of thinking to themselves, Why? How could you say that, Paul?
Paul actually answers that, and he does so by quoting the Old Testament as the basis for his claim, saying, in the next part of the verse, “…for it is written…” He’s coming from Deuteronomy 27. “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” He’s saying, “The reason I say that is because the law itself teaches that unless you keep it perfectly, you’re cursed, so unless you can keep the law perfectly, if you’re looking to it for salvation, you’re not going to find salvation. What you’re going to find is cursing.”
Paul, essentially, is saying to anyone in the church who is tempted to believe that message, that you can be saved by obeying the law (and he’s saying this, including, no doubt, those who are actually preaching the message, which I think is a good thing to think about), “The very law you’re looking to to make you right you right with God, actually teaches you’re in big trouble if you’re looking to the law to make you right with God.” That’s what he’s saying. “So don’t do that! The law tells you not to do that, so please don’t do that!”
Here you begin to get a sense of Paul’s burden for these churches, and why he wrote this letter. I think it’s important to see he implicitly just assumes nobody is perfect. Does he not? “Unless you can keep the law perfectly, you’re under a curse.” What he’s assuming here is, “Therefore you’re all under a curse, because none of you can keep the law perfectly.” He just assumes that’s a universal problem of man. We’ve all failed God. We’ve all failed to live up to his standard.
He explicitly says this in other letters he wrote. You think about Romans, the letter he wrote to the church in Rome. What does he say in Romans 3? He says, “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” All of us have disobeyed the commands of God. Then he actually goes on to say, later on, the wages of that, what that earns for us before a holy God, is death, a curse, God’s curse, God’s wrath. So Paul’s burden here is to encourage these Christians, or at least these people who are professing to be Christians, not to look to their own morality to save them, because it cannot save them. All of us, if we’re going to live that way, have to live up to the fact that we’re cursed.
One pastor actually put it this way. He said, “If you read the Ten Commandments through, as you should do very carefully, you will have to pause at each commandment and say, with solemn truthfulness, ’I have broken this commandment.’ Especially will this be the case if you remember the truth that the law is spiritual and deals, not just with actions, but with thoughts, with desires, with your imaginations and motives. Yes, with your very nature itself. Surely, you will have to cry, ’Guilty, guilty, every way, and guilty every day.’” This being the case, you are, and I am, outside of Christ, under the curse.
You get a sense of Paul’s burden for these young Christians. That’s why he doesn’t want them to believe this false message. It’s because he knows where it goes, and where it goes, if you’re relying on your own morality to make you right with God, is eternal cursing, wrath, the wrath of God, justly given for our sins. He’s saying, “I don’t want you to have that.” That’s why he has a burden, because he knows this is true. He knows, as Richard Sibbes (who was a Puritan pastor) said, “Outside of Christ, God is terrible.” Outside of being in Christ and being forgiven through him, God is terrible. He’s terrifying, because there’s nothing that awaits us except for his wrath.
Paul is getting this point across, and what he’s getting it across to say is, “So don’t look to the law to save you. I don’t want you to be cursed! I want you to be blessed! He goes on to say the only way to be blessed is through faith in Christ, what he has been saying over and over and over again throughout the entire letter. He says it again in verse 11. Look with me. Paul, in verse 11, quite confident of the point he’s making and the fact he is indeed making his point, says, ”Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for ’The righteous shall live by…’“ What? ”…faith.“
The only thing that justifies us is faith in Christ. Again, he’s coming back around to this, as he has been the entire letter. ”But the law is not of faith, rather ’The one who does them [the commandments] shall live by them.’“ If you do the commandments, you’ll live by them, but if you can’t do them, you’ll die by them. Again, he’s assuming you can’t do them. There’s no life in that. There’s only life if you put your faith in Jesus Christ.
So he’s saying we’re only made righteous, we’re only rescued from the curse and God’s wrath through putting our faith in the only one who has ever and will ever perfectly obey and fulfill the law of God, Jesus Christ. Think about it. Jesus is the only one who was never under the curse. Why? It’s because he was the only one who perfectly obeyed and fulfilled the commandments of God. He’s the only one who has done it. He’s the only one who was not under the curse, and Paul is saying, ”So that’s where you look. That’s who you put your faith in. If you put your faith in him, you’ll be forgiven of your sins. You’ll be declared innocent by God. You’ll be made right with God. The curse will be lifted.“
A great question to ask is…How? How is me putting my faith in this man going to save me and do what the law can’t do? I’m glad you asked, because that’s exactly what Paul tells us in verse 13. Listen to me. If you’ve been dozing off to this point, you need to wake up and get on the edge of your seat, because what you’re about to hear in verse 13 is the heart of Christianity. It is the heart of the Christian message in one sentence, and it’s wonderful.
In verse 13, Paul says, ”Christ redeemed us [bought us back] from the curse of the law…“ He bought us and brought us back from being underneath God’s curse and wrath. How did he do this? ”…by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ’Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree…’“ This, my friends, is the best news in the entire universe. He, Jesus the Christ, the only one who was never cursed, voluntarily took our curse upon himself in order to deliver us from it. It’s unbelievable!
This is the message of Christianity. This is what God is inviting you to believe and be saved by. How did he do this? He did it by going to a tree, by going to the cross, by being crucified. In the most staggering and marvelous of ways, after having lived a sinless and morally perfect life by obeying God perfectly, he gave his life to ransom ours. Theologians, in these big theology books, call this substitutionary atonement.
What that means is Jesus, on the cross, became our substitute. He took our place. He made atonement. He made payment for the debt we owed God. He substituted himself and paid what we couldn’t pay. You know, there is something about the human soul, I think because we’re made in the image of God, that is moved by substitution. There’s something in all of us that is moved by seeing a person sacrifice himself for another. It’s just in us. We’re drawn to it. We see it and we go, That’s beautiful. That’s right. That’s good.
I was made aware of that in a whole new way this weekend. My wife was in Houston visiting a friend for a baby shower. My kids were at the grandparents’, and so I was alone. I just decided to go to a movie, because I could actually do that. I just decided, Oh, I’m going to go to this movie that’s showing in 10 minutes. Great! So I went over to the Movie Tavern, had lunch, and watched The Hunger Games along with $68 million worth of other people who went and saw this. I saw it on Saturday. Did you know it made $68 million on Friday? It’s the highest-grossing opening day ever for a movie that’s not a sequel to another movie. It’s a pretty big deal.
I’m just now coming into this. Some of you read the books a long time ago. Indeed, I know, even staff-wise, it’s like they got the book and read the whole book on the one day, and they read all three books in three days. Now I didn’t read the books. I’m not into teen fiction. If you are, that’s fine; I’m just not. It’s no big deal. I didn’t read the books, but I just started hearing about this craze, and people are going crazy! So I read some of the reviews, and they were actually really good reviews.
They said the acting was good, so I thought, Well, I can go see this and see what the craze is about. So I did. I ate a pizza and watched the movie. Man, I didn’t know what to expect, but what I learned is… Do you know what the entire premise of the movie is? Do you know what the heart of the movie is? It’s the main character (and I wrote her name down, because it’s weird and I couldn’t remember it)… Her name is Katniss. The heart of the movie is Katniss… Listen. I’m sorry. If you’re named Katniss, I’m really sorry. Okay?
The heart of the movie is Katniss voluntarily substituting herself for her younger sister, Primrose. That’s what the whole movie is about. That’s what it’s rooted in. It’s this woman giving her life for her sister’s life, and $68 million worth of people went on Friday night to watch this substitution. Why? It’s because we see it and we read about it and we know it’s beautiful. We know it’s right. We know there’s something about that that’s good. It draws us in, even if we don’t know why it draws us in. It draws us in.
How much more beautiful and worthy of our adoration is the substitution Jesus Christ has made for us as his people? As Paul would say in another one of his letters, ”God made him who had no sin, who knew no sin, to be sin so we, who knew plenty of sin, could become the righteousness of God in him.“ On the cross, Jesus took our curse. He took our sin and God’s wrath toward it, and he absorbed it all onto himself in our place.
Friends, think about the gravity of this for a minute. We sing the song every now and again that says, ”On him every sin was laid.“ Think about the gravity of that. Every evil thought of yours, of mine, and of everybody else in this room, and of history… Every lustful intention, every selfish action and word, every fearful or entitled response to our circumstances, and God’s just and righteous wrath toward those things…all of it placed on Jesus Christ on the cross. You know, we marvel at the beating he took.
You know, where they pulled out his beard, and they put a crown of thorns on his head, and they beat him in the face, and they whipped him, and they ripped his skin off. We marvel at that, and we should. It’s horrific, but do you know what’s even more horrific? Plenty of people went through that sort of punishment in those days. What’s more horrific, and what’s more scandalous that happened at the cross, is the wrath of God, all of it toward those of us who would believe in Christ, was put on Jesus. God did not withhold. Jesus redeemed us from the curse by becoming a curse, by taking onto himself the punishment and the wrath we deserved. Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
Do you know what’s stunning? If we put our faith in Christ to save us, in the same supernatural way he takes away our sin and the eternal punishment we deserve because we’ve disobeyed him, he gives us his righteousness! He gives us his moral perfection so we’re declared and seen as innocent before God the Father. He doesn’t just take our sins. That would be enough. He then gives us his perfect record! The only one who obeyed perfectly says, ”Now what I’ve done, it’s as if you have done it, if you put your faith in me.“ He clothes us with robes of righteousness.
Athanasius, the early church father in the fourth century, called this the glorious exchange, that Christ, the Son of God, got the punishment and took the punishment of an enemy of God so we, who are enemies of God, could receive the blessings of sons and daughters of God. It’s the glorious exchange. Believing in this, putting your hope in this, and living by this, is at the heart of what it means to be a Christian. So if you’re having trouble discerning what the message of Christianity is, this is part and parcel of what it is. This is getting to the very heart of it. Believing this message about what Christ did and what it accomplished as he did it.
Sadly, this is the very doctrine that hinders many people from ever becoming Christians. Perhaps the most famous example of this is Gandhi. This is what Gandhi wrote. He said, ”I could accept Jesus as a martyr, an embodiment of sacrifice, and a divine teacher... His death on the Cross was a great example to the world, but that there was anything like a mysterious or miraculous virtue in it…“ For example, like him redeeming us from the curse of the law by becoming cursed. If there was anything like that that happened, supernaturally, in it, ”…my heart could not accept.“ In other words, to Gandhi, Jesus’ sacrifice and his death are honestly no different than Katniss’ in The Hunger Games. It’s inspiring. It’s rousing. It’s a good example, but nothing else really happened there.
Paul is saying, ”No. Actually, the very heart of what happened is there was something miraculous and mysterious that was accomplished through his death and through him giving himself. Namely, those who had put their faith in him could be redeemed from the curse and be saved.“ But many people don’t believe this. Just like Gandhi, they don’t believe it, and there are a variety of reasons they don’t believe it. I would even say a lot of the reasons are valid!
We don’t need to look down our nose at those who aren’t Christians, who God has not awakened to the reality of who he is, and just sort of be condescending. There are a lot of good reasons to struggle with this. Surely, you know that. I wrote down a few. My home group helped me with this. Here are just a few reasons why people struggle. If you’re not a Christian, perhaps as I walk through this list, I can clarify and maybe articulate for you what’s keeping you from putting your faith in Jesus Christ.
1. People just don’t see any need for it. Many, of course, just don’t see a need for Christ to have to exchange his life for ours. There’s no need for their sins to be forgiven. Of course, many don’t even believe they have sins. There’s not even a God, and if there is, he’s really not a God who requires anything of us, and there’s surely not going to be a reckoning at the end of time for what we’ve done or not done.
The homework this week, if you’re journeying through the Galatians study, said, ”Many have so light an apprehension of God’s holiness and of the extent and guilt of their sin that consciously, they see little need for justification. They don’t see a need to be made right with a God, if there even is one, and yet, below the surface of their lives, they’re deeply guilt-ridden and insecure.“ But many people just refuse to come to Christ because they can’t see the need. They can’t believe there’s truly a need to be forgiven, to be justified in the first place.
Others think they can simply balance out their lives and make up for the bad they’ve done by doing good, so in their minds, there’s another way. Yeah, perhaps there is a God who I need to reckon with at some level, but I don’t need Jesus’ help to do that. Here’s what I’ll do. I know I’ve done these bad things. I feel guilty about that. I’ll just balance those bad things out with good things. I’ll just tip the scale by my moral effort and my moral achievement by doing good. A lot of people think this way, and they live thinking this way and with this worldview.
Of course, the ominous question that always looms over people’s heads, who live like this and think like this… It looms over their heads and over their consciences. How do I know when I’ve done enough good to make up for the bad? How would you know how good is actually good enough? How would you really ever know if the scales have tilted? You would never have any assurance. I know even Buddhists who, this is the reason… They grew up in a Buddhist home, and they’ve just walked away from that belief system. That ominous question that’s always there: I have no assurance. I have no way to know if I’m good enough.
2. Because it’s too simple. If there is a holy God who they’ve sinned against, surely, there has to be something more than simply trusting by faith in the sacrifice of Jesus. Honestly, I think many people who struggle like this have a deep need to feel like they’ve earned it. Listen. Many of you are here. We’re Americans; we have this Western mindset where nothing comes free, at least nothing that is worth anything. I need to earn what I get, so if I’m going to get forgiveness from God, I want to feel like I’ve earned it, deep down. Unless I can feel like I’ve earned it, and unless I’ve had a part to play in it, I just can’t do it. I can’t see myself believing it.
Do you know what’s sad? It’s people who think like this find it impossible to truly receive grace. Because they do, they also find it impossible to extend it to others as well. It’s very, very sad.
3. They’re going to have to give up this façade of control. Many people who hear the message of Christianity very quickly (and, I would say, rightly) realize if it’s true, if this message I’m preaching tonight is true, if God is the only one who can save them, then to believe that means they have to give up control. I don’t know if you remember the old poem by William Henley, made famous by Nelson Mandela, but it means that poem isn’t really true.
This is what the poem said. ”It matters not how strait the gate, How charged with punishments the scroll. I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.“ To believe the gospel means you give up on believing that, because you realize that is not true. Many people cannot bring themselves to do it. They cannot live without a sense of control, without a façade of control. It’s much too terrifying to believe you’re not in control, to give away that illusion.
Of course, you see, with many people who believe this, circumstances and disasters, like a tornado roaring through your neighborhood, happen, and they realize control was just an illusion all along. None of us have control of our lives. None of us. Yet it’s something that keeps us from trusting Christ.
4. Weakness. In many people’s minds, only weak people need Jesus, so to admit, Yes, I have rebelled against God. Yes, I’m under a curse because I’ve done so. Yes, I’m unable to make it right and save myself. Yes, I need a Savior to rescue me, means you’re weak. I would answer, ”Yes, it does.“ By the way, since when is being weak a bad thing? Since when is a crutch a negative thing?
Anyone who walks in here who is crippled, or who has had surgery on their leg, with a crutch… Nobody looks at that person and says, Well, that person is foolish for having a crutch. That person is foolish for admitting they need help and using the help that has been provided for them. How much more so with our crippled souls, to be too proud to admit we need help, to admit we need a Savior?
Jesus Christ has offered himself as that for us, but because being strong and being powerful is so vital to certain people’s identity… Being self-sufficient is so close to who I am. To give up that and admit we’re powerless and need help is something a lot of people will never do, because to give up that part of your identity means you don’t know who you are anymore. If I’m not powerful enough, if I’m not self-sufficient, I can’t live with that, so I won’t admit I need help.
5. There are many who just think they are too dirty. Maybe this one is most prominent in a lot of people’s minds, maybe in a lot of people’s minds in this room. The stains of their sin are too dark and too deep to be cleansed by God. Some of you, even tonight, you’re coming off a week where you did not steward it well. You wandered in or purposefully threw yourself headlong into some really horrible sin, and so you’re here tonight, not because you want to have your heart changed by grace.
You’re here tonight to do penance because you did this last night, or you did this this week, and you want to prove to yourself and to God how serious you are about making things right, so you’re going to come to church, and you’re going to beat yourself up internally about what you’ve done until you feel better, until you feel like you have appeased God. I’m just telling you tonight that’s not the way it works. God is not going to accept that. He doesn’t want your penance. He’s not excited about you coming here to prove to yourself or to him how serious you are about following him.
His invitation to you, if you’re serious about following him, is to cast yourself upon the grace of God and to believe even for you, and even for what you did last night or this week, his grace is sufficient to cleanse you from your unrighteousness. Many people cannot believe this, and at the end of the day, it sounds very timid. It sounds very humble. It’s really proud. People who say, He can’t forgive me. I see all these other people, but they haven’t done what I’ve done. It sounds humble; it’s really proud.
What you’re saying is, ”Christ’s death wasn’t sufficient. His accomplishment wasn’t good enough for me.“ Again, you place yourself in the position of wanting to earn it somehow, and God won’t have it. Christian, covenant member, I think it’s important here to remember Paul is just not writing these things to those who are non-Christians. In fact, he’s actually writing this letter to those who are professing Christians. I’ve just run through this list and given you a lot of reasons why people who are non-Christians don’t put their hope and faith in Christ, but surely you know we, who profess Christ, struggle to believe this as well. Many of us, for the exact same reasons.
Now the difference between a non-Christian and a Christian is a non-Christian just rejects this message outright and says it’s not true. As Christians, we embrace this message and put our hope in it that it is true, but even those of us who profess Christ, even though we say we believe this, we struggle to believe it every day. Do we not? Of course we do! That’s why Paul wrote this letter, because we’re so prone to look to a different message, to a different whatever, to make us righteous before God, and he’s not wanting us to do that. God is not wanting us to do that.
I love the quote from the homework this week. It said, ”Only a fraction of the present body of professing Christians…“ Only of a fraction of us in this room tonight, ”…are solidly appropriating what Christ has done in our lives.“ In other words, only a fraction of us are going to wake up tomorrow morning and live as if what he has done for us is true. Only a fraction of us are going to let what he has done for us shape our entire worldview, shape our circumstances, our relationships, and how we feel and think. Most of us are going to wake up in the morning and live as if it’s not true at all. We’ll profess this, but functionally, we’ll live like atheists.
What I want you to think about in closing here, whether you’re a non-Christian or a Christian, is…Why? Why do we do that? Non-Christians, you don’t believe in Christ. You’ve not put your faith in this message about him. Why not? What’s keeping you from believing it? Again, I realize some of you have some very valid reasons; I’m sure. But what’s the biggest hurdle to you putting your faith in Christ right now? What’s keeping you from pushing all your chips in and saying, I’m giving up on all other saviors, and I’m looking to him to be my Savior?
If you’re not looking to Christ to be your savior, who or what are you looking to? Who or what are you looking to to give you meaning, purpose, validation, and significance, and to save you, to make you feel like somebody? What are you looking to? Who are you looking to to do that? If it’s not Christ, it’s something else. We’re all looking to something, and if it’s not Christ, who or what is it?
Professing Christian, in what ways do you struggle to believe the gospel? Why are you struggling to live as if it’s true every day? I think we would all admit, at some level, we struggle to do that. But why? I ran through some reasons. Maybe your reason is not on there. Maybe I didn’t cover it. These are just some things my home group and I thought about together this week. Why do you struggle to live as if it’s true every single day? Why does your heart, like the churches in Galatia, so easily shrink back to believing a different gospel? What causes that to happen in your life?
Tomorrow morning, when you go to class, when you go to the office… Tonight, when you go home and your roommate is being your roommate again, or you are being you again, what causes you to shrink back? What causes you to slip back into the mode of trusting in your own good works to make you righteous before God? What are you prone to rely on besides Christ to make you righteous? What causes you to doubt you’re accepted by God simply because you’ve put your faith in what Christ has done through his life, his death, and his glorious resurrection?
”Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us…“ and in verse 14, Paul finishes his thought he began last week, and tells the church why all of this happened. He says, ”…so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we…“ Those of us who were once not a part of the people of God… Even we could have the door kicked open, and, ”…might receive the promised Spirit through faith.“ Let me read you this quote from Charles Haddon Spurgeon, who I named my son after, and then we’ll be done.
He said, ”Our Lord, Jesus Christ, was made accursed for us that he might deliver us from the curse of the law, and that in consequence, we might be blessed,“ as Paul just said in verse 14. ”The flood of blessing was ready to flow along its channel, but the riverbed was blocked by a huge rock. The stream was dammed up by our iniquity. What was to be done? The hindrance could only be moved by that great Lord whose hands were pierced and whose feet were nailed to the cross. He, by his great self-sacrificing act of love, lifted the rock from its place, cast it away, and enabled the stream of blessing to flow freely down to us, all of us who would put our trust in him.“
The invitation is, Will you put your trust in him? Will you believe what he has done for you, in your place, as your substitute, is sufficient even for you? Let’s pray.
Father, as we come to the table now and take the bread and the juice that represent the body and the blood of Christ, I pray we would come in faith. Help us. Help us in our unbelief, that we would come to the table tonight and believe that for even us, Christ’s sacrifice was sufficient to redeem us from the curse of the law.
In the ways we’re failing to believe that, in the ways we’re struggling to put our hope in that to save us, would you minister to us now? Would you come, by your Spirit, and just speak? I trust you’re here, you’re answering our prayers even now as we pray. So as we come to the table, as we sing these songs, would you transfer our faith from whatever our faith has been in to yourself, to your Son and what he has done for us, starting now as we come to this table? We pray in Jesus’ name, amen.