Galatians Sermon 2: The Freedom of the Gospel

May 5, 2019 Speaker: Daniel Nelms Series: Galatians

Passage: Galatians 1:10–2:10

If I sat with any of you, and asked you your story - the story of how you got your job, how you met your spouse, why you chose to pursue the degree you are pursuing, you would have a story.  Everyone’s story, has a beginning.  An origin.  And we are always fascinated by people’s origin story.  That is why often when a movie comes out about someone or some character who is already midway through life or older, and it ends, we’re always interested in knowing the backstory.  And Hollywood knows they cam make money off of some sort of prequel/origin story.  Where did they come from?  Why are they the way they are?  Why do they currently do what they do?  Those story often tell us why.   

Now this applies for Christians as well.  If someone is a Christian, there is a beginning to that story.  And it is important that, if you are really to understand the nature of your current faith as a Christian and the authenticity of that faith, that you spend time tracing it back to its origins.  Its origins will reveal much about your foundations in Christianity.  Many people attend church regularly, and have no problem identifying as a Christian.  But if I were to ask, “Why do you identify as a Christian?  When did your faith begin?”  You wold be surprised that many have not spent much time thinking through this question.  But in doing so, those questions will help illuminate for you 1) Your current understanding of Christianity, which will in turn help you to 2) understand the reasons why you are even sitting here this morning in a church service. The fact is this: we must have an authentic, correct understanding of the core message of Christianity.  It is discoverable, it is understandable, and it is revealed in the Scriptures.  Now it is possible for all of us to have been attending church for years, even decades - and get the Gospel completely wrong.

How so?  How is something like that possible?  That question we will be answering this morning.  

Paul in our text this morning traced this very conversation with the Galatian churches.  They had teachers who came in who did that very thing - they were saying “you must not only believe in Jesus, but you must also keep all of the Old Testament laws and adopt Jewish Culture if you were to be a Christian.”  They were probably, as far as we can tell, falsely claiming that this understanding of the Gospel came from the very mouths of the Apostles in Jerusalem who had spent time with Jesus while he was on earth and who were taught by them - that they were preaching a message of “if you want to be a Christian, you believe in Jesus, and you must also do.…”

Paul knew it was a false message, and to begin his defense of the true Gospel, the true nature of Christianity, he goes to his origin story.  He wants his audience to understand the actual source of his Gospel he preached, where it came from, his motivations for preaching it, and also to defend the unity of the church who are in agreement with it.  And this morning he begins his teachings on the very content of the Gospel, which will be continually taught from various angles throughout the entire summer as we go through this book.  

So this is our roadmap for today, and throughout this road map I am asking that you individually ask yourselves these questions.

 

  1. What is the origin of Paul’s Christian life?  And what is the origin of your Christian life?  Where did it begin?
  2. What thus is Paul’s motivations for his Christian faith?  What are your motivations for living your Christian faith?
  3. What is the Good News that Paul is preaching?  How do we know it was the real thing?  And what Gospel do you believe in?  How do you know it is the real thing? 

That is our road map that we will travel down this morning.  So let’s read from the Holy Scriptures:

Galatians 1:10–24

[10] For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. [11] For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man's gospel. [12] For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.  [13] For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. [14] And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. [15] But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, [16] was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles….

Where did Paul’s understanding of the Good News come from?  How do we know it was the original message of Jesus?  How do we know he was the right guy to teach it?  We can assume that some of the accusations of these false teachers was this: “Paul didn’t travel with Jesus during his ministry, before his death and resurrection.  Paul isn’t the real deal.  We’ve spent time with the real Apostles in Jerusalem, the ones who did spend time with Jesus.  And we know the real Gospel.”  Of course we know that this wasn’t true, and Paul exposes not only the source of his Gospel but its unity with the Apostles in Jerusalem.

But Paul, as he argues here, he didn’t first learn it from the original disciples in Jerusalem, Peter, James, John, and the others.  He did not receive his understanding of the Good News of Jesus from any one man.  Rather, it came from Jesus’ himself.

Now this is a remarkable claim, is it not?  To really grasp the weight of this claim and why it is important to hear, we must listen to the story of Paul’s former way of life.  As it was true then, and so it is now: many times leaders in the church can have really bad motivations for preaching, for leading, for pastoring, and thus miss the mark of why Jesus began the church at all. Paul wants them to understand the source of his motivations, and all that he had to loose upon believing in Jesus.     

He was walking the road of becoming the most zealous pharisee amongst the others in Judaism.  He was actually persecuting Christians, more than anyone else out of pure passion.  In fact, his goal was to stamp out Christianity in order to keep Judaism pure and undefiled from this supposed Jewish Rabbi, who claimed that he was the Messiah, whose followers claimed was alive again.  He was even advancing higher and higher in the ranks of Judaism faster than most of his age, his zeal for his Judaism was more intense than most.  Indeed, this was noticed, and Paul’s future influence within Judaism seemed to be broad and secured.  He would be a big deal.  And he would have a lot to have gained for it.

But all of this suddenly, and quickly, stopped.  And that is part of the crazy story of Paul’s words here.  But first, he claims his origin story actually didn’t even first begin on that famous road to Damascus incident when Jesus in his resurrected state appeared to Paul.  In fact, Paul recognizes his origin in Christ as one that began before he was even born - this was all destined by God before Paul was even born!  God reveals his Son to Paul in order for what?  That this zealous, fiery Pharisee who was trying to stamp out the Christians would turn to Christ and begin preaching the Christian message to the Gentiles, or non-Jews.  

What message was he to preach?  Jesus.  That he might preach “him” or God’s Son, to the Gentiles. 

Pau’s reason for bringing this up is clear: What do I have to gain for preaching the message I am preaching?  Galatian churches, you must see that my Gospel message is the real Gospel!  My motivations are not corrupt, I am not seeking to please this person or that person, but I am writing what I am writing to you and have told you what I have told you because Jesus revealed himself to me and told me to leave everything behind in order that I may preach him among people like you.  

Many in Christianity have experienced such dramatic conversions that led them to give up everything for Jesus - giving up literally everything they had to gain for Christ.  There was an actor in the late 50s and early 60s, Dolores Hart.  She had made numerous movies with numerous movie stars including her debut with Elvis Presley.  She was beautiful young woman in her early 20s on the fast track to stardom, making 10 high profiting movies in a short 5 years, when suddenly she announced to the Hollywood world, “I’m giving it all up to become a nun.”

She met Jesus, had an encounter with him, and committed the entirety of her life to him.  She felt a call to singleness and to a life in the convent, and upon her ceremony when she committed herself to the convent - she walked down the aisle in a wedding dress.  She was marrying Christ.  She felt called to give everything away - stardom, success - and gave her life to Christ.  Now why would Dolores Hart do something like this?  In our culture, we see that life and think “you’ve got it made!  Everyone would love you, success is going to just bleed from you.  Why would you want to walk away from that?”  Now it is important to know that Jesus does not always call people to quit their jobs or to reject success - that is a sermon for a different day.  But in Paul’s case and in Dolores Hart’s case - they felt that their high profile vocations were going to be incompatible with their new faith, and that Jesus was asking them to give it all away in order that they may follow him.  He did, and she did, along with countless others throughout history that have experienced such things.  

He continues to clarify the chronological order of this encounter with Jesus:

…I did not immediately consult with anyone; [17] nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. [18] Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. [19] But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord's brother. [20] (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) [21] Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. [22] And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. [23] They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” [24] And they glorified God because of me. (ESV)

 

He didn’t even first go to the Apostles.  He spent three years, some say part of that time was an extended period of deep retrospection as he was processing meeting face to face the resurrected Jesus Christ, and all that it meant for his life.  Christ was alive!  Christianity is actually true after all!  Paul used to persecute the church with all of his might because, surely, he knew its message.  He knew what they taught, and he obviously thought it was a lie. And suddenly he sees - they were not making it up.  Jesus is alive!  Everything is now different for him.  So after some time of introspection, he apparently had been sharing this Good News in Arabia and also the people of Damascus - the very town he was originally traveling to to lock Christians up.  He went and joined in those church’s ministry.  Imagine the shock of that church!

But finally after three years, he travels up to Jerusalem.  He doesn’t meet all the Apostles, but only meets Cephas (Peter), and James, the Lord’s brother.  This was just a short two week trip.  Then he travels back to Syria and goes to Cilicia.  And people began hearing the fantastic story:  this man who was arresting us is now preaching Jesus with us.  Now don’t just read this as if this is a good story… this is real, actual history.

So the origins of Paul’s Gospel was from the very lips of Jesus Christ.  It came from him.  It was the real deal, the authentic News coming from the lips of Jesus himself in his resurrected state.  He gave everything up for Jesus after this encounter.  Paul is to be trusted, then, in his preaching. 

Where does your story begin in Christ?  Paul is clear that the message he was preaching was Jesus Christ.  When he says that the message was Jesus, he is simply saying that the Good News is of Jesus Christ and all that he has done - the Good News of his Work, of him.  

We call our stories as Christians our “testimony,” that is, our story of before Christ and after Christ.  It usually starts with “before I met Jesus this was my life,” and ends with “after I became a Christian this is my new life.”  

When is the last time you considered your testimony? When is the last time you’ve recounted this in your life?  And maybe you are sitting here, and you realize that you cannot recount such a dramatic before and after story, and sometimes that is OK, especially if you were raised in the church like me.  I was baptized at 6 years old, and I do not remember a time when I did not know Jesus or pursue him.  Yet I had my ups and downs as well, my years of trying to find life and meaning in things that are not Christ and testing my life long faith, only to discover that it was indeed true - there was no other joy or hope found anywhere else.  Mine may not be as dramatic like Paul’s or even many of you in this room.  

For some of you, maybe you do not have a testimony at all, and you realize you do not have that time in your life that you can say “I realize that Jesus is alive, and that in him I am given a new birth, a spiritual birth, and with faith in him now my life is changed forever.”  If you do not have that story, throughout this sermon, ask yourself, what does it mean to believe in the Good News of Jesus?  To be a Christian?  And stick with us throughout this series of Galatians, as we will along with Paul, define the Good News of Christianity in a finely tuned manner, and I pray it will help you come to a full understanding of what Christianity is all about, that you will indeed soon have your own conversion story.

This is why it is helpful for us to revisit our stories and remind ourselves why we are here this morning, nd aif you have been identifying as a Christian, why you have, in order to see if you are actually are a Christian.  “Make your calling and election sure,” says 2 Peter 1:10.  These are good things to ask ourselves.

We can learn from Paul’s testimony the importance of the origins of our identification as Christian - most people don’t have Jesus physically show up to them, as he did Paul.  Therefore, someone probably drew you into the Christian faith.  And sadly, the biggest challenge to the church, I firmly believe, isn’t the outside world as it is in the inside of the church.  Basically 3/4ths of our Bible was written, Old and New Testaments, to combat errors within God’s own people that were coming from their own leaders.  Often there was an amazing start in their story with God, only to lead to confusion, wrong motivations, and often a complete lost of what they had at the beginning.  This letter to the Galatian churches exists for that reason as well.

Maybe you have been identifying as a Christian for years, maybe even decades, and maybe your first foundation in Christ had partial truth in it, but was either incomplete or clouded with bad doctrine.  Good doctrine with bad doctrine mixed together.  Oh how challenging this is for the church!  How do we identify this if it exists in our own life and heart?

The core of Christianity does come down to our motivations as a Christian.  Paul addresses his motivation within his origin story.  And often times, especially when you are an adult, many people who have made shipwreck of their lives realize that they have no other options than to look to Christ for help.  Jesus begins as your helper - your savior.  Those sort of sudden adult conversions into the faith can be very dramatic indeed.

Yet for many, especially in New Jersey, the beginnings of many who identify as Christians do not have a distinct moment that, like Paul, experienced a dramatic conversion and heart change by placing faith in Christ.  Rather, they have always attended church since they were kids because they were raised to.  They had done various religious landmarks in a Christian church that has given them the identity of Christian, and have been taught to maintain those things even in a basic way in order to maintain their Christianity.  Accomplish the landmarks, maintain the ones you need to, and as long as those landmark actions surface every now and then - you are in the right before God, justified, safe.  This first way is what I will call “The Good News of Landmarks”

Many of these people have never been confronted with the question of defining their Christianity apart from what they have done.  How do you define Christianity apart from your works?  Apart from your religious works? These landmarks are not not meaningless - far from it.  Works is evidence of faith, according to the book of James.  As a Christian, we must be able to define faith separate from our works, but we cannot define our works separate from our faith in Jesus.   And I fear that Landmark Christianity provides an opportunity to define works without defining any faith at all - and that is not Good News, as we will see shortly.   

For other Christians who indeed have had this conversion experience later in life, I have often found a second version of what I just described.  This is “The Good News of a New Culture”  They became a Christian, they were baptized upon faith in Jesus, but their leaders in the faith, similar to those at the Galatian churches, had more to add on beside just faith in Christ and what he accomplished.  They say “Great!  You are a Christian.  But in order to please God and be in the right before him, you must live this very new detailed way of life complete with rules on how to live: you must now vote republican, dress nicely, comb your hair, smile all the time, don’t drink alcohol or smoke anything, serve the church, attend every week, and listen to only Christian music and watch Christian movies.  In other words, if we could boil it down, if you listen to Metallica and don’t homeschool your kids then that is evidence that you are not a Christian.”  As a side note, I do homeschool my kids, but I do love metal as well, I used to rock the long hair, believe me.  Metallica is only the beginning for me.

Anyhow, the Christian life becomes about maintaining that new Christian culture and that new way of life before God and others.  And when people in the church break that culture and do something that is outside of that culture, the rest of the church can misunderstand them, can look at them as nearly exiles and outsiders.  “What are you doing?  Are you even a Christian?”  And the amazing thing about this is: the grace that they have received in Christ is denied to their brothers and sisters, and I’ve seen Christians treated in the most ungracious, brutal, compassionless ways.  And unfortunately so have many of you.

A third way for many, maybe the lifelong struggle for us all is the “Good News of Your Work”: whether you have a religious background or do not at all, I believe this applies to us all.  All of us have a natural hunger and search for meaning in this life.  And we often attached our meaning in life to our work, what we can accomplish or have accomplished, how much money we can make, or at least have the feeling that we are contributing to society and others in some way.  Before God and others, if you can show good evidence of that, then your life is justified.  It is made right, and it matters. 

I am here to tell you that these things are not the Gospel.  Those things are not Good News.  These are like mirages in the desert - from afar they may have the appearance of life giving water, but upon chasing them you’ll find that you never find the water you’re looking for, and you’ll still be left parched with thirst, empty of meaning, and even disillusioned.   

If that is you this morning, if you can identify with any of these three - The Good news of Landmarks, the Good news of a new Christian culture, or the Good news of your work to any degree, you need clarity concerning Christianity and its message. You need a sort of restart - you need to return to the very beginning.   

What is the clarity of the Good News of Christianity?  If those previous three things are not Good news, what is the Good News?  Next week we are going to dive into one of the most glorious verses in all of the Scriptures as Paul goes very deep into this question.  Yet today, Paul like a master builder, guides us to a very helpful first step in the clarity of the Gospel that will end our time today:

 

[1] Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. [2] I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain. [3] But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. [4] Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery—[5] to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. [6] And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me. [7] On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised [8] (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), [9] and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. [10] Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do. (ESV)

 

Paul affirms to the Galatians church that the Apostles in Jerusalem were actually in firm agreement with the Good News that Paul had been sharing.  It wasn’t in fact Paul’s version of the Good news, but it was the real deal - the same Good News that they were preaching.  In fact, they even extended the right hand of fellowship to Paul, recognizing him as among their ranks, and even ensured that there was unity in their ministry - the care for the poor - the very thing Paul was eager to do.

Now part of their agreement was this: the preservation of the true Gospel amongst the churches.  They wanted to ensure that the real clear Gospel was being preached.  Now these false teachers had come in to spy out what Paul calls the “freedoms” of the Gospel.  Why?  In order that they might turn them back to slavery

What is Paul talking about?  Yes, they wanted to preserve the true nature of the Gospel, which according to Paul, is freedom, and the false teachers wanted to bring in a false Gospel that would lead to slavery.

Freedom?  Slavery?  What is he taking about?  How can these things lead us to the clarity of the Gospel?

All of those three things we mentioned, The Good News of Landmarks, the Good News of a New Culture, and the Good News of your Work: they are all slavery.  How so?  Because it is about you doing them and maintaining them.  And it is guaranteed that it will only bring you to a very insecure way of life.  When is it ever enough?  When did you ever do enough?  What if you missed one of those landmarks growing up, or what if a large portion of your life was missing any maintenance of the landmarks?  Will God still accept you?  How do you make up for those loss years of missing landmarks?  What if you were not baptized in the church as a child, were not catechized as a child, not married in the church etc. - will God accept you?  It’s slavery to feel the need to accomplish and maintain them if you are to be accepted before God.   What if you don’t live the Christian life that other Christians expect you to live?  What if you didn’t vote republican in the last election?  Are you ever a Christian?  Because we all know Jesus voted for republican presidents.  

Or what if you have never had a good job, your parenting has been mediocre at best, or you are approaching mid age, feeling that you do not have much to show for it so far?  There is more to Christianity than what you do or don’t do, more to Christianity that is maintaining a certain culture, and more to life than what you have or have not accomplished or earned.  Those things are mere slavery - you will find yourself trapped in a sort of system that you must always be at work in if you are to maintain your right standing before God and others.  It is a system that you must always ever be laboring at if you are to ensure you are life matters and means something, and it is dependent on your own labor - placing chains on your wrists, trapped in a cell of good works and check lists and the need to achieve more and more.  

Now what is freedom, the freedom that Paul spoke of?  As we will see more of in great detail throughout our summer, what if I told you that it is not about your labor?  Your works?  Not about any sort of past landmarks achieved, not about doing the right Christian things and maintaining a new Christian culture, and not about how much you have achieved in life?

What is your meaning in life, the justification of why you are here, is not found in your work, but in someone else’s work? What if, by mere faith, you can look back and realize that your life now matters and before God is perfectly in the right, justified, because of what someone else has done in your place?

The reality is that there will never be enough landmarks to achieve, enough Christian-esque things to maintain, and never enough achievements to bring about the peace of meaning.  Because dwelling inside of us, if we are honest, is a roaring insecurity.  An insecurity of looking to our own hands, our own labors, for our justification.  We don’t know if it is enough!  Yet the Gospel gives us freedom because we look back to what Christ has done: his perfect life, as Paul will tell us soon, is freely given to us, credited to our account.  His righteousness in life has been gifted to us, making us to be righteous before God.  Upon faith in Jesus, when God sees you, he no longer sees your work, but he sees the work of Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says,

 

[21] For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (ESV)

Upon faith in Jesus, we realize that his death was in our place - our sins, no matter how bad they were, and I am sure many of you are sitting on and hiding the guilt of previous actions that have placed a heavy burden on your shoulders that you are laboring to remove, laboring to be freed from, hoping that you can just prove to God, and YOURSELF, that you are indeed a better person than you were - the Gospel gives you freedom because it says, that burden has been removed in Christ.  You’re free from it!  In Christ you are given a new birth, a new life.  And that old person is gone.  In Christ, even if last night you really fell into dark sin, his death is always enough to cleanse us.  His grace knows no bounds.  1 Peter 3:18 says,

 

[18] For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, (ESV)

 

And in his resurrection we have the assurance of new life tomorrow, when he returns to once and for all overthrow the shackles of evil and death in this world, give you a new body and a permanent new existence to live in holiness and bliss before Jesus forever and ever. Read the last few pages in your bible to see this beautiful coming future.  

Now the key to hearing all of this is this, and this is the most important thing:  it is only freedom because it doesn’t have anything to do with your labor.  Paul says that when Titus, who was a Greek, a non-Jewish Christian, went with him to meet with the Apostles, he didn’t feel the need to take on Jewish culture and customs because he was already in Christ!  That is freedom. 

It is freedom because it is not about what you do.  The moment that Christianity becomes about you, it becomes about slavery.  The moment you realize that it is not about you, but rather about the work of Christ, you find the joy of FREEDOM.

 

I want to end with a story, it is a story from what I believe is the second best selling book of all time: the Pilgrims’ Progress.  It is a theological allegory of a man named Christian, who begins his journey with Christ.  Written in the 17th century, we receive a work of art that has sold tens of millions of copies, and helped the Western world understand the true nature of the Good news of Jesus as taught in Scriptures and also the journey of the Christian life. Christian begins his journey in life with an enormous burden on his back, a weighty burden that has stooped him low.  A burden of the shame of his on sin, of the weight of his work to try and justify himself and be made right before God, the weight of his own slavery.  And we will close with a reading from this wonderful book:

Now I saw in my dream, that the highway up which CHRISTIAN was to go was fenced on either side with a wall; and that wall was called "Salvation".

Up this way, therefore, did burdened CHRISTIAN run; but not without great difficulty, because of the load on his back.

He ran thus till he came at a place somewhat ascending; and upon that place stood a Cross, and a little below, in the bottom, a tomb. So I saw in my dream, that just as CHRISTIAN came up to the cross, his burden loosed from off his shoulders, and fell from off his back, and began to tumble; and so continued to do till it came to the mouth of the tomb, where it fell in, and I saw it no more.

Then was CHRISTIAN glad and lightsome, and said, with a merry heart,

"He hath given me rest by his sorrow,

And life by his death."

Then he stood still awhile to look and wonder; for it was very surprising to him, that the sight of the cross should thus ease him of his burden. He looked therefore, and looked again, even till the springs that were in his head sent the waters down his cheeks.

Now, as he stood looking and weeping, behold three shining ones came to him, and saluted him with, "Peace be to thee!" so the first said to him, "Thy sins be forgiven thee";  the second stripped him of his rags, and clothed him with change of raiment; the third also set a mark in his forehead, and gave him a roll with a seal upon it, which he bade him look on as he ran, and that he should give it in at the Celestial Gate: so they went their way. Then CHRISTIAN gave three leaps for joy, and went on singing:

"Thus far did I come laden with my sin,

Nor could aught ease the grief that I was in,

Till I came hither. What a place is this!

Must here be the beginning of my bliss!

Must here the burden fall from off my back!

Must here the strings that bound it to me crack!

Blest cross! blest tomb! blest rather be

The Man that there was put to shame for me!"