Galatians Sermon 3: In Christ (Galatians 2:11 -2:21)

May 12, 2019 Speaker: Daniel Nelms Series: Galatians

Passage: Galatians 2:11–2:21

In Christ

So far in this letter, we have seen Paul’s anger against some false teachers that have shown up in the churches throughout the region of Galatia, a region located in modern day Turkey.  These false teachers were spreading the idea that faith in Christ was not enough, but rather these new Christians, most of who were not Jewish in the region of Galatia, needed to take on Jewish culture and customs through the Old Testament Law if they were to truly take on the Christian life - a false Gospel, news that was not Good News.

And now this morning we are going to see something that is very important - the connection between belief, heart and actions.  If you’re here and you’re wondering why we feel the need to harp continually on belief about certain Christian teachings and why it matters so much for your life - to begin with, Christianity does not primarily teach a “believe in the right things and you get to escape earth and go to heaven when you die” as a type of hell-insurance.  No, Christianity is so much more, and it indeed the Good News of Jesus is Good News for you TODAY.  So faith and belief matter for your day to day life.  And today, as we talk about this, we are going to see from the sin of Peter that within us all is often some kind of head/heart disconnect.  What I mean is this:  there is a lot that we may say we believe, but if you were to observe much of our actions, you would say, really?  Do they really believe the things they say?  

And this is where right belief is so important.  Faith and belief do indeed motivate and thus control your life.  All of us have beliefs.  I don’t care if you’ve believed in Christianity, or describe yourself as non-religious - everyone has beliefs about life that maybe you can’t prove but you think or feel is right, and you cling to them.  And it motivates you to live.  Now, if we’re honest, the ability for their to be inconsistency within us and our beliefs in the form of “what you do does not appear to match what you believe” is strong.  As Christians, we can do it.  Or from people who are not religious - the same thing can happen.  This is not a new phenomenon, but it does tend to be very common in America.  As far back as the early 1800’s, people have been writing and even prophesying to Americans, saying “You have a wonderful democracy, you have wonderful freedom.  But individualism is going to undermine it all.  It will even undermine the habits of your heart that are aimed at the good things you hold to and believe in.”  In other words, often times the hypocrisy we find in our lives often tend to reflect a commitment to ourselves first and our desires and our urges before our commitment to any sort of external beliefs in something outside ourselves.  

People in modern times want to see that “authenticity,” right?  They want to see that people are really who they say they are as proven by their actions.  They want to see consistency.  They want to see that the wholeness of their life is actually controlled by the things they say or speak.  Words are easy, but words without actions are empty.  And if we’re honest, we desperately desire this for ourselves as well.

Now how does the Good News of Christianity bring a answer to this?  And yes, it is Good News, and not bad news.  

 

So here is a road map of this sermon today:
1) We’re going to look at the apostle Peter’s head/heart disconnect, and Paul’s strong response to it 

2)  We’re going to look at Paul’s answer to it as he shows us that the head/heart disconnect often a problem of belief and dependence on self before Jesus

3)  And we’ll see the Good News of Jesus and the resolution, or better yet - the salvation it brings to this.  

 

Let’s pause and we consider the Word of the Lord from Galatians 2:11–21:

[11] But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. [12] For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. [13] And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. [14] But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

 

What motivated and controlled Peter?  Apparently Peter had been brought into fear by a group of Jews who came with James.  Before James appeared, Peter was in Antioch.  Antioch was not a Jewish City, but a city full of non-Jewish Gentiles, located in modern day Turkey as well.   In this story we learn that Peter, a Jew from Israel, was sharing meals with Gentiles.  This was the times of the Roman Empire, where most meat came from sacrifices made in the local pagan temples that were then sold in the town markets.  So not only was this meat sourced in pagan idolatry, but it most assuredly was not cut and drained of its blood like the Old Testament Law required.  In other words, it was very far from being kosher, and a ceremonial Jew would have never dreamed of eating such food.  But Peter being a Christian now, knowing that all foods were made clean in Christ, and that Gentiles have been brought into his Church - he is free to eat of this food with thanksgiving with his brothers and sisters in Christ, regardless of their non-Jewish status, and apparently he had been doing so freely.

But, as we’ve discussed the past few weeks, false teaching had crept into these churches.  It was a false teaching that said Christians were required to assume all of these dietary laws and customs from Jewish Culture and the Old Testament Law if they were to be a Christian.  Apparently some of these Jewish Christians came with James to Antioch to where Peter was.

Peter, being Jewish himself, was in fear of them.  Now we can only really guess as to the nature of his fear, it is not very clear exactly what he was afraid of.  But we do know this:  their presence had a controlling effect on Peter as to control his motivations and thus his actions.  He either wanted to impress them, find favor in their eyes, or he was afraid of being seen by other Jews living and eating and drinking amongst the non-kosher Gentiles, even though they were Christians.  Whatever it was, their presence meant that Peter needed to put on an outward show that brought him into hypocrisy that did not accurately reflect who he really was - the head/heart disconnect.

The original Greek behind the word hypocrite is the word that we get the idea of “masquerade” from.  He had to pretend to be someone different than who he was previously claiming to be in order to gain the favor of a group of people who would have disagreed with his actions. 

Now Paul calls him out, and he makes sure everyone is around to see it.  The force of his words are: look, are you trying to set a precedent here, telling the Gentiles that if they want to be Christians, they need to become like Jews?  Just earlier you were eating away with them, living like a Gentile.  Have you suddenly had a change of heart?” Or better said, “A change of belief?”

So Peter believed one thing, but did another.  And what Paul is showing through Peter’s hypocrisy is this: Peter’s hypocrisy and the false teaching that these Galatian churches had bought into have something terrible in common: at its core a dependence and commitment to self.  Peter was first committed to his reputation before the other Jews and acted as if the Jewish way of life was superior.  This caused a separation between his Christian brothers and sisters - a better/than effect.  Almost what we can call today as nationalism.  But the nationalism wasn’t first the problem: it was Peter’s fear problem.  He wanted to justify himself to these Jews, and thus it led him to actions that he didn’t even claim to believe in.  Head/heart disconnect.

And this is what the common denominator is with us: within us all, the head/heart disconnect can occur when we act as if we need to control our own ability to be in the right.  This is not Good News.  For the Galatian Christians, Paul is combating false teaching that crept in that directly played into this: Jesus’ work is not enough, but you also need to take on Jewish culture and the Old Testament Laws if you are to be in the right. 

Now we’ve established that for most of us, this is not our problem - a temptation to want to start adhering to all the Laws it the Old Testament.  But the head/heart disconnect is shown when we, like Peter, find ourselves acting a different way than we claim to believe, as if there is other Good News out there.  And nearly every time, that different way is going to be centered around some sort of insecurity in your life that stems from a lack of assurance of who you are before God and before others through faith in Christ.  Or, on the other side of the coin, it manifests itself when you think that fulfillment of our whimsical urges and desires, even if they are contradictory to what you know its right or claim to believe, will fix your problems and cause you to be happy - other supposed Good News dependent on your actions.

How does Paul address this?  Let’s continue.  A reading of the Word of the Lord: 

 

[15] We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; [16] yet we know that 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 order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

 

He briefly recounts his path of conversion again, and he included the pronoun “we” referring to Peter and the other Jewish Christians: their conversion began not with their observance of the Law but rather through faith in Christ. Now Paul, like a master builder, begins building his argument with the notion of faith.  Faith is belief something outside of yourself.  It is believing in something that is outside of your physical ability to grasp or accomplish.  Faith is the answer to Peter’s head/heart disconnect.  Faith is the answer to the idea that your ability to be in the right before God and others is according to your own ability to achieve and work and accomplish - all that stuff that stems from insecurity, from a lack of assurance before God, all that stuff that can bring the “I believe this, but I act like this” - what I believe is a common modern day manifestation of the Galatian’s problem.  

Now Paul, with this as the backdrop, continues on.  Sometimes we see Paul anticipate someone’s objection to this argument, and it appears he does so in the next group of verses.  The Word of the Lord:

 

[17] But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! [18] For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. [19] For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 

Let’s try to rephrase it.  And I want to be honest, I read through maybe 7 or 8 various commentaries on this portion of Scripture, and few agreed with one another.  Paul did something very awkward here, and chances are we’re missing some information that keeps us from understanding exactly why he said what he said here.

But it seems that maybe part of the argument of these Judiazers in the Galatian church was that, if Christians did not take on the Old Testament Law in all of its detail, our hearts would be left unguarded in the Christian life. We actually should take control of our ability to be in the right before God, because if we act like we don’t have to, then we will be left unguarded.  Forget the head/heart disconnect!  The real problem is that you would have a freedom to choose sin if we are simply accepted by God through faith, and that we could have a morally disastrous life and say “hey I’m still justified before God!” thus making Christ a sort of servant of sin. 
Paul masterfully defends the true biblical and historic Good News:  No! You’re missing the order of things.  To be in the right before God is not about what you are doing and what you are not doing, what sins you’ve committed or what sins you are not committing, it is not about what Law you are keeping or are not keeping - these things are not what causes God to accept us at the beginning.  

Paul says in terms of being saved, of being accepted by God - Paul is dead to the Law of works.  Peter was acting as if he could be made right by being distant from a certain group of people in order to remain clean and accepted - he claimed to know better!  But he still acted that way - his heart had a problem.  And Paul said, we must understand, to begin with, that the manifestation of Peter’s problem is only a representation of all the problems with humans.  

Deep down we are all a bunch of insecure people, worried about how others perceive us.  We’re all a bunch of fearful people, worried that our children are not achieving enough or that they are not accomplishing the right things at the right time.  All of this insecurity that reveals a lack of assurance that your life actually matters not because of what Jesus has done, but because of what you have done: Paul says, we’re dead to that way of thinking.  

And here is where Paul transfers the conversation to one of the most explosive and mighty verses in all of the New Testament.  Paul begins giving us a road map of correct belief, of our reality with faith in Christ.  If you can relate and associate to anything we’ve heard this morning, you need to listen to Paul’s roadmap: For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God.

Somewhere along the way Paul said that he died to that old way of thinking - that we can be accepted by God according to what we do or don’t do.  But in his death of that old way of thinking, he found a new life to live God.  How can death lead to life?  That is a paradox.  But Paul explains himself in clearer terms as he continues.  The Word of the Lord: 

 

[20] I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. [21] I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. (ESV)

 

Look at Paul’s words, and pay attention to them.  He directs the Churches to understand one of the most crucial things concerning the Christian life.  God doesn’t look upon your life and say, “Pay attention to your insecurities and fears because they are valid.  What have you done in order to be able to stand before me?” Rather God looks upon Jesus’ life on this earth, and says, “Your life is now in union with Christ’s.  And because of what Christ has done, it has been accredited to you now as your story.  His death to sin was your death to sin.  His new life in the resurrection is now your life new in Christ.  And because of that, you now you can stand before me without fear.”  This is what theologians call our spiritual Union with Christ.  

In other words, all that Jesus did has became a sort of representation of our story, what we called our testimony as Christians last week.  All of his righteousness, his perfect life before God, has become ours.  Yet, it extends beyond that: our sin before God, or when we act as if we are in complete control of our own life and destinies, as if we are God - all of that sin became his sin - not that he committed sin, but he was treated before God as if he did.  The perfectly just, Jesus, being crucified for the unjust, us.  His perfect righteousness becomes ours, and our unrighteousness became his.  Martin Luther called this the “Great Exchange” - 2 Corinthians 5:21, “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)”

So when we see Jesus hanging on the cross, pause, and consider yourself.  Stop and dwell on all of your filth, your sin, the worst parts of you that no one knows about.  Those things you have done that if only the person next to you knew, then maybe they wouldn’t want anything to do with you.  I’ll never forget the story I heard recently of a revival pastor in England who was approached with a comment of “oh how wonderful and holy you are!” - only for his pastor to tell his parishioner, “if you only caught a glimpse of the thoughts of my heart, you’d want to spit in my face.”  

Consider these dark and worst parts of you.  And look at the dying Christ.  And realize that that person, YOU, who committed all of those sins, that filthy sinner that even you are ashamed of - that person is dead!  With faith in Christ, his death has become the death of that old sinner that used to be you.  

May God open your ears and heart to hear this!  That sinner has died with Christ.  That sinner is now lifeless before God, the record of their sins are gone and and separated as far as the east is from the west.  If all of your sins are ever before you this morning and you feel crushed beneath their weight, if you feel the stain of your past actions on your name even now, you need to know that that person is dead!  Dead people cannot speak, they cannot talk, they can no longer be accused for anything nor punished for anything.  That person is dead!  But Paul takes it even a step further: the Word of the Lord says:

 

“It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”

 

Paul realizes that it wasn’t enough for that old man to die. And it wasn’t enough for Christ to die.  Christ had life after his death - the Resurrection.  The world-changing, history changing event where the very curse of this earth, sin and death, were defeated and its undoing and reversal began.  And as Christians believe in Jesus, his new life also begins dwelling in you by the presence of his Spirit, the Holy Spirit.  He begins a renewal and reversal in your own life.  In present terms, this shows itself as a continual battle of dying to your self, and living unto Jesus by the help of his Spirit - the battle of the Christian life.  Elsewhere, Paul comments on this all important teaching by saying “I die everyday!” 

You must understand that Jesus’ death wasn’t some sort of half death.  His heart stopped beating and his breathe ceased.  It was a complete death.  Thus, the death of your old self - it was a complete death.  Nothing of that former person remains before God.  

Thus when you take on this new life - Christ living in you - there is to be nothing of your former self still present, but only a life that gives a fragrance of Christ himself.  Wow!  That sounds like an impossible task, you may be thinking.  Have you been in my head?  Do you know the thoughts and feelings that still go on in my heart?  But fear not. God knew it is, so he gave you his very Spirit to dwell inside of you, to regenerate and change your heart, officially giving you a new birth before him.  Your heart is continually being made new.  Christ is living in you.  

Now, consider this: if this is where we stopped, it could be easy to give credence to your insecurities before God.  And I’ve seen churches and religious teaching do this time and time again.  “Why doesn’t your life look like Jesus?  Don’t know you know that your old self is dead?  Why do you live as if it is still there?  Don’t you want to make God happy, and bring about his blessing into your life?  You must do the right things!”

This is not represent the clarity of the Gospel, and it would be terrifying news if it were true.  It communicates God as nothing more than an angry Father standing there with his arms crossed, looking down on you, saying, “Are you living up to what I want you to live up to?  Do you want me to accept you?”  And we look up and say, “Oh God I want to do better!  Help me to live better so you’ll accept be be pleased with me!”

Read on.  Look at Paul’s next words: 

 

And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

 

It is clear!  Jesus Christ gave himself for you.  That work is done!  And that is what Paul clings to by faith with all of his heart, and if there is any life he lives in his body right now, it is completely controlled and motivated by what Christ has already done.  It is a full embrace of already being in the right before God.  It is looking to Jesus, and saying, “I know you’ve given for self for me.  You chose death because you love me!  That is what I cling to with faith.  This is what motivates my life I live in this flesh, this body today.  I don’t need to worry about what this person thinks about me, or I don’t need to worry about doing the right things to be accepted by God.  I can finally give up this head/heart disconnect and feel the freedom of doing so!  I don’t need anything else other than the gift of faith in Jesus!   

And look at the simple core motivation of Jesus that informs the foundation of the Christian life:  Why did Jesus give himself for you?  Because he loves you.  Christian, do you hear this?  You never mature too much in Christianity to hear this.  The Son of God loves you.  That is why he died - his actions were motivated by love.  

Paul ends this beautiful section of verses by saying:

[21] I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.

 

If there is any other way to be right before God other than through Jesus and his work, then Christ died for no purpose.  Now the letter could really end here, but Paul continues dissecting the Gospel over the next three chapters or so to ensure that they get it.  

But as we end today, I want to attempt to be as clear as I can, just as Paul attempted to be.  If you are a Christian here today, we must look back if we are to find the correct motivation for living today.  This is not what the head/heart disconnect does.  The head/heart disconnect lives too much in the moment.    It lacks assurance that what Jesus really did was enough for God to accept you.  It depends on present actions today to finally bring you in the right, to finally bring about what is missing in your life, to finally fill that void in your life - to cause you to say “now my life matters!”

Christians don’t entirely live in today.  Not entirely.  Rather, our lives today is a continual looking back to what has already been done on your behalf.  And we live today in the shadow of what is to come tomorrow. 

And if we truly understand these things, then what controls us today?  What motivates us today to live?  Paul points us to the Love of the one who died for us.  

So as we close today, I want to return to this question of how to make war on our insecurities and this idea of the head/heart disconnect.  Because the reality is that if we do not fully grasp the Gospel and the love that motivated Jesus, and flush out all of our insecurities and fears in our life before God and others, then we will continually battle the hypocrisy of living a certain way that does not match what we claim to believe.  And we could even make shipwreck of our lives as we sail that endless ocean of trying to find the assurance somewhere out there that our life actually matters.  The rocks of doubt will rip open our boats and we will sink as soon as a storm hits us, and the chaotic waters will overtake us as we drown, still grasping for hope.

I want to be very honest with you this morning:  true belief of the heart will manifest itself in how you live.  So hypocrisy in our lives is a surface level indication of doubt.  Insecurities are an example of doubt.  Fears are an example of doubt.  A doubt that with simple faith in Christ, you are saved, you are in the right before God, that you’ve been clothed with his righteousness - all of his own doing, and not of your works.  And perfect love casts out fear.  

Love.  If if we are truly in the right before God with simple faith, if that old man has truly been crucified with Christ, if that person no longer lives but we have received a new life in Christ as he now lives in us, if this life we now live in the flesh we live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me by unmerited grace - how are am I live?  Why should I live?  What motivates the Christian life?  Maybe there is a danger then of freely giving ourselves over to a license to sin!

No!  Perfect love casts out fear.  Perfect love casts out doubt.  Let me explain how this is the answer to all we’ve been talking about this person by the idea of covenant love.

You see, Jesus didn’t need to die and do what he did in order to impress God.  No - read the Gospel of John.  Jesus was in perfect union with God.  God sent Jesus, and he was perfectly willing to come to earth to die for the sins of his people.  Not because he wanted God to be happy with him - God already was.  Before Jesus did any ministry on his earth, at Jesus’ baptism, God’s voice spoke from the clouds and said “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am pleased.”  God was already pleased with Christ before he did anything.  

Thus, what would drive Jesus to do what he did, to die?  If it wasn’t for God’s favor, why did he do it? To die such a brutal death?  Love.  Paul states this very clearly:

And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

It was motivated by love, perfect love.  What we can call covenantal love - what the Old Testament calls “hesed love” - a love that is not dependent on what you do or don’t do, but what is simply dependent on the covenant given that cannot be broken.  And this undergirds the Christian life entirely - your motivation for living the Christian life becomes a mirror of the motivation of Christ - LOVE.  

Marriage would be helpful to understand what I am trying to say.  This coming Thursday Alexandra and I celebrate 11 years of marriage.  Now, we did write our own vows, but we still spoke the traditional vows of “I, Daniel, take Alexandra, to be my lawfully wedded wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part. So help me God.”

Now, what if our vows were stated like this:

“I, Daniel, take Alexandra, to be my lawfully wedded wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, only if she proves to me continually that she really loves me by serving me and doing for me the things that I ask and the things that I like, till death do us part. So help me God.”

If this is the basis for our marriage, imagine the insecurities that would be present.  Does she really love me?  Does he really love me?  Man, he hasn’t washed the dishes in two weeks!  Maybe he doesn’t love me anymore.”  Oh how often we treat God like this!!  Oh God, I know you love me and accept me through faith in Jesus and what he has done for me, but I don’t have assurance of this, so I’m insecure and fearful, and I feel like I fail you all the time, and I feel like I need to always make it up to you in religious actions, I really do love you!” or even “I know God says that with faith in Christ and his work I’m accepted, but I really think that I need to do this or that, and only then will my life feel like it matters and only then will God be pleased with me and only then will my life be complete.” 

This is the answer:  The Christian life begins with FAITH in what has already happened - what Christ has done.  And only then when you really understand this will a love, a real tangible, excited, living, vibrant and zealous love rise like a wolf in your heart that says “Wow!! I can’t believe what Jesus has done for me, all because of his love for me! Now I can’t wait to reciprocate that love you and serve you all the days of my life!”  When I look to Alexandra, and the love she gives me, I say “Wow!  She loves me?” I’ll never forget the day that I realized she was actually interested in me.  And even when I brought her down to Georgia and let my friends meet her, I remember after we all sat on the couch and talked, Alexandra got up to do something and left the room for a minute and with serious eyes they leaned over, in kind of a whisper so Alex couldn’t hear in the next room, “Ok, Daniel, seriously.  How did you get her? What??  Where did you find her?  Is this real or are you lying?”

We both put rings on our fingers and said “I commit myself to you, no matter what happens, my love is not going to be broken, and I am going to serve you with all of my heart because of my love.”  And God looks on us and says, “Because of what Christ has done motivated by his love for you, my love cannot be broken.  You are sealed and accepted through Jesus by faith, and the old man of sin is dead!” And we turn around and say “Wow!  Amazing love, how can it be?  I can’t wait to return love to you!”  This is why the church is described as the bride of Christ - in this kind of love we are married to Christ.  And it cannot be broken!  

Christians, stop doubting!  May your heart grasp the fullness of these realities, and may you truly experience the freedom of such Good News.  The Christian life is lived in love, and not fear.  Let us pray.