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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Craig Smith » Craig Smith - Gospel Glue

Craig Smith - Gospel Glue

Craig Smith - Gospel Glue
TOPICS: Live Free, Gospel

Oh, hey, welcome to Mission Hills, so good to have you with us today, whether you’re joining us in person or online. We’re in the midst of a series called Live Free, where we’re exploring the Book of Galatians in the Bible for God’s wisdom on how we can experience freedom as followers of Jesus. And I feel like we probably ought to acknowledge that maybe some of you are listening to this going, I don’t see how religion is a good way to pursue freedom. Because that’s not normally how we think about religion, right? We don’t think of it as a freedom-producing thing. And if you think about it, I mean, the Old Testament part of the Bible in which both Judaism and Christianity are based, the Old Testament has 613 commandments. It’s not…does not sound like freedom does it?

And they’re on the gamut too. You got commandments, like, you know, don’t kill each other, don’t murder, and don’t boil a baby goat in its own mother’s milk. I don’t know about you, but I’m kind of like, “Okay, that’s a good one. And is that a problem? Like were people doing that?” And then there’s a part of me that goes like, “Hey, am I missing out on a culinary experience of some kind? Because it’s never even occurred to me to do that.” But that’s kind of what the law does, right? It sort of makes us go, you know, any time somebody says, “Don’t do that.” You’re like, “But what if I did? And what am I missing out on and if I don’t, right?”

And to make things even more confusing throughout the Book of Galatians, Paul has consistently told us that following the Old Testament rules and regulations don’t save us. That following the Old Testament rules and regulations aren’t how we get to the point where we belong to God and to his people. In fact, the clear message throughout the Book of Galatians has been belonging to God and his people depends on believing in the Resurrection of Jesus, believing in Jesus. And so if that’s the case, then why do we have the laws? And if that’s the case, then why has God given us all of these Old Testament laws? And how do we understand them? And that’s really what we’re going to begin to turn our attention to today. So whether you’re a follower of Jesus, who’s always wondered like, “Why exactly are there all those rules and regulations in the Old Testament?” Or maybe you’re not a follower of Jesus but you’ve always wondered how Christians are supposed to think about all these rules and regulations. Do we obey them? What’s the purpose of obeying them? Wherever you’re coming from? You’re going to get part of the answer to that question today. Not the whole thing, but an important piece of the puzzle.

So if you want to go and grab a Bible, start making your way to Galatians. We’re going to be in Galatians chapter 2, starting in verse 19 today. And really what’s been happening for the last few bits of Galatians is that Paul has been explaining why he had to give a public challenge to Peter. Peter was one of the early leaders of the church. He was a Jewish-Christian follower of Jesus. And Paul has accused him of hypocrisy because at a certain point, Peter was willing to hang out with, to associate with Gentile-Christians, meaning non-Jewish followers of Jesus. But then some other Jewish-Christians came and Peter got afraid of what they would think of him, or maybe say about him, or something else they might do to cause problems. And so he began to disassociate to separate himself from the Gentile, non-Jewish followers of Jesus.

And so there was…there’s kind of a split going on in the church between the Jewish Christians and the non-Jewish Christians. And Paul has confronted Peter and said, “Hey, you’re being a hypocrite. You can’t do that.” Hanging out with Gentile-Christians isn’t breaking any of God’s laws. In fact, he says it’s the opposite that’s true. If you refuse to hang out with them, if you refuse to associate, if you refuse to consider them as part of the family, then you’re breaking one of God’s most important laws. But of course, that raises the question then, you know, what is the business with all these laws and these rules and regulations? How are we supposed to think about them? And this is what Paul says. He says, “For through the Law…” meaning the Old Testament rules and regulations, “…through the Law, I died to the law so that I might live for God.”

So we start off with a very simple sentence. Really easy to understand. I probably don’t need to say anything more about it, right? Yeah. For through the Law I died to the Law so that I might live for God. Well, what’s he saying? Well, what he’s saying here really is that one of the most important functions of the law is this, here’s the way I usually say it. It’s that the law kills the idea that “better than” is good enough. The law kills the idea that “better than” is good enough. So here’s the thing, we all tend to think that when it comes to belonging to God, as long as I’m better than those people, as long as I’m better than enough people, then that’s good enough. We tend to think that God grades on a curve, right? We do. It’s just very, very natural.

In fact, whenever I’m talking to somebody, like at a coffee shop, or on a plane or something, and the issue of heaven comes up, sometimes people will tell me they believe in heaven. And so I’ll usually ask, I’ll go, “Hey, cool. So do you think you’ll go there?” And it’s interesting, almost nobody says I doubt it. Like, that’s never an answer I get. I do get some, “Well, I really hope so.” But mostly what I get is, “Well, yeah, yeah, I think so.” And so I’ll usually lean in. I go, “Well, why do you think that? I mean, not that I’m doubting you, but why do you think you’re going to be in heaven?” And I almost always get some version of the same answer, which is, “Well, I’ve never killed anyone.” I’ve come close a couple of times, but I’ve never actually gone through it, right. Or, you know, I’ve never cheated on my wife or I’ve never stolen from my company.

And sort of implied in all of those is kind of the unspoken like those people, right? I’ve never killed anybody like those people. I’ve never cheated on my spouse, like those people. I’ve never stolen from my company like those people. And really what’s happening there is we’re just seeing pretty good evidence that most of us think, most people think that better than is good enough. As long as I’m better than those people, then I must be good enough for God. And so it’s interesting that we tend to think that but if we really dig into that, we realize we don’t actually believe that. We think it but we don’t really believe it in our heart of hearts.

I mean, think about this, imagine somebody has to go get a surgery. Say you have to go get a surgery. Now, it’s not a big surgery. It’s just a pretty, you know, it’s an in and out, you know, kind of an inpatient procedure. But you got to get it done. And you call up a surgical center and they say, “Well, we got two surgeons who could do that for you.” The first surgeon has lost 75% of his patients on the operating table. And you’re like, “Let’s talk about the second one.” And they go, “Yeah, he’s lost 78% of them.” Now, 75% is better than 78%, is that good enough for you? Probably not, right?

Or how about this, let’s imagine that you’re thinking about marrying two different people and God tells you, “Hey if you married this person, they’re going to cheat on you five times. If you married this other person, they’re going to cheat on you four times.” Is better than good enough for you? You’d probably say no. And the reality is this, in all the most important areas of life better than is not good enough. It’s not. We know it. We get it. But we forget it when it comes to God. When it comes to God, we tend to default back to that thing and go, “Yeah, as long as I’m better than those people then I’m good enough for God.” And what the Old Testament Law does is it kills that idea. Because what we find in the Old Testament Law is the standard for belonging to God isn’t being better than those people, it’s actually being like God.

God, himself is the standard for whether or not we really belong with him. In fact, what the Old Testament Law says. This is Leviticus. God said, “Be holy, because I am holy.” That’s the standard, being holy. I don’t know if you know about this about holiness, but holiness is not a gradient. There’s no such thing as being a little holy. You’re either holy or you’re not. It’s like, I don’t know why people do this but I hear it all the time, “Oh, she’s a little pregnant.” What are you talking about? She’s pregnant or she’s not pregnant. It’s an either/or situation, okay? Holiness is the same way. There’s no, I’m a little holy. No, you’re either holy or not. You’re either completely holy or you’re not holy at all. And by the way, if you feel like that’s too strong, then let’s go to the more loving portion of the Bible, right? People tend to think that Jesus is the more loving one.

Here’s what the most loving man in the world said. He said, how about this, he said, “Be perfect. Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” In other words, if you weren’t quite sure what holiness meant, let me clear it up for you. It means perfection. Most loving man on the world said that. And if you’re going that feels like an impossible standard, then that’s the point. The Old Testament Law kills the idea that being better than those people is good enough for God. And it makes it clear that the standard is not being better than somebody, the standard is actually being holy. It’s being perfect like God.

Now, it might seem like bad news to realize that that’s the standard because we’re like, “Well, none of us can get there.” But it’s actually very good news. Because when we are set free from the lie that better than is good enough, we’ve actually begun to look in other places for hope. And there is hope to be found in other places. Specifically, this thing we call the Gospel. And so Paul says, “I’ve been crucified with Christ. And I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” He says, “By putting my faith in the life, the death, and the Resurrection of Jesus, I actually died with him.” And the idea here is that when we put our faith in Jesus, we take Jesus in a bear hug and everything that happened to him happens to us and he died and so he went into the grave, but also, he was raised to life.

And kind of metaphorically Paul says the same thing happens to us when we put our faith in him, that when I put my faith in Jesus, I died to myself, meaning I died to my old way of living. The way of living that said, as long as I’m better than I’m good enough. And Paul, by the way, let’s be really clear, Paul was better than almost everybody. In multiple places in his letters, Paul says, “I was really good at following the Old Testament rules and regulations.” Not perfect. But whenever he wasn’t perfect, whenever he didn’t follow rule, he made the appropriate sacrifices which are required by the Law. So he said, “I was doing it all. I was better than almost everybody. But I realized that that wasn’t good enough. But when I put my faith in Jesus, I died to that idea.” That old version of Paul was put into the grave.

So Paul 1.0, gone. And instead, he says, “I was raised to a new kind of life with Jesus, a life where the power of Christ is inside me.” He says, “I am raised to a new life. I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” And what he means is, not that Jesus has replaced Paul. It’s not that Paul’s gone, but that there’s a totally new version of Paul. It’s a Paul that’s not trying hard to get God’s approval. But it’s a Paul who is empowered by God to actually live in a way that pleases God. That’s what he’s beginning to hint at. All right. Bottom line what he’s saying here is that faith in Jesus kills the idea that we have to work for God’s favor. And it raises the hope that we can now live by God’s power. Not by our own, not by our own effort of our own work, not by just trying harder, but the power of God in us, the power of Christ that raised him from the dead can actually now be the power source for changing the way that we live because it changes who we are. So Paul says, “Paul 1.0 is gone. Paul 2.0 is here and Paul 2.0 lives by the power of Christ in me.” He says, “The life I now live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Now, so important that we understand God’s motivation here. He says, “I live by faith in the Son of God, who died for me.” But why did Jesus die for him? What does he say? It’s because Jesus what? Loved him. It’s remarkable how quickly we forget that as Christians. We’re not here because we earned God’s approval. We’re not here because we worked our way into belonging with God by our behavior. We’re here because even though we couldn’t work our way into it, God loved us so much that he sent his own Son, Jesus, to pay the price of our bad behavior, of our sin. He did it because he loves us. And I think it’s important to remember that the church exists because of God’s love and the church exists to communicate to the world that God loves them. But we get it wrong often, don’t we? What we end up communicating to the world is often something very different than that God loves you and has done everything necessary for you to belong to him.

And really here, we begin to get at the heart of the message of Galatians. What Paul says, he really begins to bring us back to the central issue that comes up over and over again in the book. If you’ve been with us throughout this series, you may remember that we’ve said that on one level, the entire Book of Galatians is about the relationship between three key things, believing, behaving, and belonging. Galatians is about how do we understand how those three things click…connect together. And there’s one view that was going on in Galatians, some people from the outside had brought it to Galatia and they were basically, they were distressing or causing all kinds of problems in the church there in Galatia because of this view, and what we call that view is legalism. It’s a view that honestly, we’re all pretty familiar with. And on one level or another, we all probably hold to it even if it’s unconscious. And legalism says…here’s the connections, we got believing, behaving, belonging. Legalism says, here’s the connection, legalism says, “Believing plus behaving leads to belonging.” It says believing plus behaving leads to belonging. If you believe with us, and you behave like us, then you can belong with us.

By the way, that view of those relationships, it’s at the heart of every religion that’s ever existed with one exception, and that exception is Christianity. Christianity, at its heart, has something called grace. And if you’re not familiar with the term grace, grace means undeserved kindness. It’s an undeserved kindness from God that caused him to send his own Son to die for our sins. It’s an undeserved kindness from God that raised Jesus from the dead and said, “You can be saved by putting your faith in what Jesus did for you by following him from here on out.”

Grace is at the heart of Christianity. And grace is a very different understanding of how believing and behaving, and belonging fit together. So legalism says, “Believing plus behaving leads to belonging.” Grace-ism, living by grace says, “Believing leads to belonging plus behaving.” Grace-ism says, “If you believe in the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus and choose to follow him, you belong to God.” And it’s because of that belonging that you end up becoming a new kind of person. A person who behaves differently not because he’s trying to get to belonging, not because she’s trying to earn belonging but because she or he is a completely different person by God’s grace.

In other words, the change in behavior isn’t the road to belonging, it’s the result of belonging. Change in behavior isn’t the cause of belonging, it’s a consequence of it. And that’s what Paul’s getting at here. And it’s because of this battle that Paul says, “We can’t put aside grace. It’s at the very heart of the Christian faith. We’ve got to keep it front and center.” So he says, “I do not set aside the grace of God. I don’t set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the Law, Christ died for nothing.” And at this point, understand that when he says, “I don’t set aside the grace of God” well, what he means is this, what often happens is, as followers of Jesus, we go, “Hey, Grace gets us in the front door.” It’s grace that allows me to be saved me from my sin. It’s grace that allows me to have my slate wiped clean. And now I have a relationship with God, awesome. From here on out, it’s up to me. From here on out, I got to knuckle down. I got to double down. I gotta get to behaving or God will kick me out.

And what we’re doing the most we’re setting aside grace. We’re going grace can only get you so far. And when Paul says, “I don’t set aside the grace.” he means, I don’t set aside it in terms of how I come into a relationship. But also I don’t set aside it as I continue to live in that relationship. I keep grace front and center. Why? Because he says, “Because if righteousness could be attained by following the Law, Jesus wouldn’t have had to die in the first place.” If you can be righteous just because you try harder to be better than everybody else, then why did Jesus die? He died because it’s not possible. You can’t get righteousness that way.

And I think it’s probably important to understand that there’s two kinds of righteousness here. The Bible really deals with two different kinds of righteousness. There’s what I call legal righteousness and then there’s what I call living righteousness.

Legal righteousness is about our permanent record. And we’ve all got stuff on our permanent record. We’ve all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We’ve all done that. So we’ve got things in our permanent record. We’re not innocent. We are guilty of sin. But legal righteousness says, there’s a deal that we can accept, and if we accept the deal, they’ll clear the permanent record.

I’ll be honest with you, I have a little bit of a weakness for movies where some like high-end criminal gets caught. And then some government official comes and says, “Hey, we got a deal for you. If you’ll do this crazy thing for us, we’ll clear your record. We’ll make it like you’d never done anything wrong. We’ll get rid of all the marks against you on your permanent record.” So they go and they do this crazy thing and now they’re cleared. Well, that’s kind of actually what I mean by legal righteousness that God says, “I got a deal for you. You’re sinful, there’s stuff on your permanent record, but if you’ll accept my deal, I’ll wipe your record clean.” The difference is that the deal doesn’t require us to do some crazy hard thing. The deal is I’m going to put my faith in what Jesus did for me, and I’m going to follow him. That if I believe in the life, death, and Resurrection, meaning I put my trust and I just choose to follow him, then my record is wiped clean. That’s legal righteousness.

But there’s another kind of righteousness that’s really important in the Bible and that’s what I call living righteousness. That’s where we actually begin to live in righteous ways. That’s where our behavior actually begins to align to God’s nature, and character, and commands. It’s where we actually begin to act like the men and women God designed us to be. But the question here, well, he says, “You know, righteousness can’t be obtained through the Law.” Which kind of righteousness is he talking about? Is he talking about legal righteousness or is he talking about living righteousness? And the answer is, yes. He’s talking about both. He’s saying both legal righteousness is clearing the record, but also living righteousness as we begin to change who we are, those are both only possible by faith, by faith, and the grace of God. By God’s work on our behalf.

So really, what he’s saying is, Grace-ism actually produces what legalism only promises. Does that make sense? Grace-ism actually produces a change in our behavior that legalism can’t. Legalism can only go so far. Legalism can only change a surface-level thing for a short period of time. But grace can actually change the underlying essence of who we are. That in our relationship with God who we are becomes different. And as who we are becomes different, what we do begins to be different. And so it’s not that righteousness doesn’t matter. It’s not that behaving doesn’t matter. But it’s two very different understandings of how we get to a real and change in behavior. Is it just by trying to change it by my own strengths so that I can belong or because I belong to God, and the Holy Spirit is in me, I begin to become a different man or a woman? And my behavior begins to line up because that’s just who I am. Grace-ism actually produces that change that legalism only promises.

So Paul says, “You can’t afford to set it aside.” Unfortunately, that’s exactly what was happening in Galatia. They were setting aside God’s grace. So he says, “You foolish Galatians. Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes, Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. You already know Jesus died to pay for your sins. I would like to learn just one thing from you, did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law or by believing what you heard?” This is the first time in the Book of Galatians that the Holy Spirit has been mentioned. But the Holy Spirit is absolutely central to the entire Book of Galatians. In fact, as the book goes on, we’re going to see the Spirit come up over and over again. Because at the heart of this idea that believing leads to belonging and behaving, is the idea that there’s a Holy Spirit who does the work of connecting those dots.

So the Holy Spirit is completely essential. The Holy Spirit is at the very heart of everything that Paul’s saying. And so for the next few weeks, we’re going to unpack more about the Holy Spirit and how he does this, how he connects the dots there. But here’s two things, I think, you need to know about the Holy Spirit to understand why the Holy Spirit is so central. Two things.

Number one, the Holy Spirit is our proof of belonging to God. The Holy Spirit is actually how we know that we belong to God. It’s the evidence that we’ve belong to God. It’s interesting, it’s not our behavior. It’s the presence of the Holy Spirit. Now, here’s where it gets complicated. The presence of the Holy Spirit does ultimately lead to a change in our behavior. But Paul says, “It’s not the change in the behavior that’s ultimately the proof, it’s the presence of the Holy Spirit himself” And the way he says it in the Book of Romans is, he says, “The Spirit that you received brought about your adoption to sonship.” The Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. He made you part of the family. And it’s by the Holy Spirit that we cry, Abba, Father. It’s by the Holy Spirit that we experience an intimate relationship with God. Specifically, an intimate relationship with the God to whom we belong to by faith. He says the Spirit is one who does that. So, the Spirit is the proof of our belonging.

Secondly, though, the Holy Spirit is our power for becoming. Holy Spirit is our power for becoming. The Holy Spirit is the power source by which we actually begin to experience an inner transformation that ultimately changes our behavior. Not because we’re trying to belong, but because we already belong. The Holy Spirit is the power source for all of that. And so those two things are really important. The Holy Spirit is our proof of belonging and our power for becoming.

Now, what Paul’s saying to the Galatians is, “Hey, you’ve all received the Holy Spirit, right?” You’re followers of Jesus and he expects them to go, “Yeah, we received the Holy Spirit.” And by the way, I should probably say this. Some of you are followers of Jesus, and you’ve had powerful experiences with the Holy Spirit. You can think of moments in your life where it’s just…there’s just been no doubt in your mind that the Holy Spirit was there with you. Some of you are followers of Jesus, but you may not look back and see those big moments. You may have seen something that just kind of, you know, blew the doors off, and you’re like, “Well, the Holy Spirit’s doing that.” And so you may wonder, is the Holy Spirit really with me? Do I really have this proof of belonging and this power of becoming?”

And let me suggest to you that there’s a couple other questions you might want to ask. One of them is this. Have you ever experienced moments where you just felt close to God? Because as a follower of Jesus, have you ever had a moment where you just felt like, I sense God’s love and his nearness? It’s not that we live in that moment every single moment of every day. We don’t. None of us do. But if you’ve ever had a moment or two like that you need understand, that’s actually the evidence of the Holy Spirit’s there with you. Because that’s what the Holy Spirit does. He communicates and he cements that relationship. He calls out to the Father, Abba, Daddy. So if you’ve ever had a moment where you felt close to God as a believer, that’s actually evidence the Holy Spirit’s there.

Or this one’s less fun, if you’ve ever had a moment where you felt convicted of sin. If you’ve ever had a moment as a believer where you just felt in your heart like I’m living in a way that’s not right as a follower of Jesus. And it wasn’t because somebody caught you. It wasn’t even because you were afraid that someone’s going to catch you. You just knew in your heart, this isn’t the way I’m supposed to be. This isn’t who God designed me to be. If you’ve ever had that moment of conviction, that’s the Holy Spirit at work in your life.

And so whether you’ve had some big like obvious, miraculous experiences of the Holy Spirit or just those moment by moment things here and there, the evidence is you have the Holy Spirit. And what Paul is asking the church in Galatia is, “How did you get that Holy Spirit who’s with you?” He says, “Did you get it by behaving according to the Law? Or did you get the Holy Spirit by believing in the Gospel, by believing in the life, death, and Resurrection?” And he expects them to say, “Well, the Holy Spirit came to us when we believe.” He says, “Yeah. So are you foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?” If you began this relationship with God, by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit who came the moment you believe, why are you switching now to go on, but it’s up to me. It’s up to me to work harder. He says, “Have you experienced so much in vain if really it was in vain? And so again, I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the Law, or by your believing what you heard?”

And what Paul’s beginning to do here is to say something that’s so important. Remember, early on, he said, “I don’t set aside the Spirit, right? I don’t set aside grace.” Meaning I don’t get this far into the Christian life and then say, “Okay. From here on out, it’s up to me.” They don’t say, “Well, grace gets me in the front door, but as I move deeper into the house, that’s all on me.” He says, “We don’t do that.” And now what he’s saying is, “Okay. So how did you get the Holy Spirit who both gives you your proof of belonging, but also gives you your power for transforming, for becoming who God made you to be?”

If that’s the case, then why are you shifting from grace got me here but from here on out it’s up to me. He says, “That’s crazy.” What he basically says is this, and this is so important. He says, “The Holy Spirit comes to us by grace and works in us by grace.” Does that make sense? So important. The Holy Spirit comes to us by grace and works in us by grace. And so grace is really…it’s not just the beginning of our relationship with God, it’s the middle of our relationship with God. It’s what gets us to the end of our relationship with God and everything that God has for us when we become everything that he designed us to be. He says, “Grace is there at the beginning and the middle, and all the way through. The Holy Spirit comes to us by grace and works in us by grace.” And we can’t afford at some point along the way to make a shift from grace to it’s my work, we just can’t do that.

And to sort of cement that, he turns to an example from history. He’s kind of been theoretical up to this point, but now he’s going to make a shift and he’s going to give a very practical example to sort of prove his point. So here’s what he says. He says, “And so also Abraham, believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. Here’s basically what’s happening. Some Jewish-Christians had come into the Gentiles and they said, “Hey, you know, it’s great that you believe in Jesus, but if you really want to belong to God’s people, the Jews, you got to behave like a Jew. You got to be circumcised, you got to eat kosher, you got to follow the Jewish social regulations, all the laws of the Old Testament. You got to do all that if you want to belong to us. So in other words, to belong to God’s people, you got to behave like a Jew.

And then Paul’s going to go, “That what they told you? Interesting.” Let’s talk about that. Let’s talk about it by going back to Abraham, who was, by the way, the very first Jew. He’s the very first human being allowed to belong to God. And so let’s just talk about how did the very first Jew become a Jew. How did the very first person to belong to God get to belong to God? Abraham believed God. He didn’t behave. He didn’t behave his way into belonging. He believed his way into belonging. Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. Abraham wasn’t righteous, but God cleared the slate. This is the legal righteousness we were talking about.

And how did he get legally righteous? How did he come to belong to a holy and perfect God, by believing what God told him to do, by trusting God, by putting his faith in Him? And so basically what Paul says is, you know, it’s interesting, they’re telling you that to belong to God’s people, you got to behave like a Jew. But you understand that even the very first Jew belonged by believing, even the very first Jew belonged by believing. So why are you listening to this? He says, “Understand then, that those who have faith, who believe in Jesus, the life, the death, and Resurrection of Jesus, are children of Abraham.” You’re adopted into God’s family by your belief in Jesus. Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith and announce the Gospel, the Gospel of Grace, in advance to Abraham, when he said, “All nations will be blessed through you. And so those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.”

Two things that are happening here that are really important. The first one, the easiest to understand is this. He’s saying everyone who believes in Jesus is blessed with Abraham. Everyone who believes in Jesus belongs in God’s family and they receive all the blessings promised to Abraham, Jew or Gentile, it doesn’t matter believing in Jesus is what gets you into the family and therefore to inherit all the promises. So everyone who believes in Jesus is blessed with Abraham. That’s pretty straightforward. There’s another thing he’s saying here that’s a little bit more subtle, but it’s really important. What he’s saying is that, those who don’t rely on believing may not experience blessing. That those who don’t rely on believing, that those who shift away from believing to behaving may actually lose out on blessing, that they may get off the path and head off in a different direction to end up in a place where the blessings of God aren’t waiting for them.

Because notice, he doesn’t say those who believe are blessed. He says those who rely on believing, who rely on faith. And in the original Greek, that rely on faith, it’s a continual sense verb meaning doesn’t happen once. It doesn’t get you into the family or into the front door, it’s a continual way of life. The people who don’t continually live by faith, they may not experience the blessing. This is for all those who rely on the works of the Law, all those whose lives are characterized by following the rules and the regulations. They’re under a curse. As it is written, cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law. He says, living by a focus on behaving by your own strength, it doesn’t get you to blessing. It actually takes you to a cursed life, which honestly, if you think about it makes a certain amount of sense. Because here’s the thing, if you think that belonging depends upon behaving then every time you don’t behave, you wonder if you no longer belong, right? That’s not a blessed life. That’s a life filled with anxiety. It’s a life filled with fear. And honestly, it’s a life filled with just a sense of failure, and rejection, and depression. That’s not a blessed life. It’s a cursed life.

He says clearly no one who relies on the Law is justified before God. Nobody’s made innocent before God by following the rules because the righteous will live by faith. That’s from the Old Testament. Even in the Old Testament Law, it says that the righteous live by faith. The Law is not based on faith. On the contrary, the Law says, the person who does these things will live by them. That’s an interesting statement that the Law says those who do the things of the Law, the rules and regulations will live by them. And in the Old Testament period, what they assumed that that meant, the way they naturally thought it was, “Oh, as long as I follow the laws, I’ll have a blessed life.” And Paul says, “No. We actually misunderstood that. Really what God’s saying is that those who do all the work of the Law and rely on doing the works of the Law, their lives come to be defined by doing that.” Their lives are defined by what they’re doing because that’s how it works. What we do ends up defining us.

It’s a little bit like this, maybe you’ve heard the old phrase, “He who lives by the sword dies by the sword.” Anybody heard that? The point is those who live by violence have their lives characterized by violence, and ultimately, that violence ends up being the very thing that destroys them. Because here’s the reality, what defines you can also destroy you. And if your life is defined by obedience to the Law, if that’s where you think your life is going to come from, and you realize like, I can’t do that, then you’re ultimately going to end up in a place where you have no hope. Living by the Law ultimately means dying by the Law, because no one can keep it perfectly.

Fortunately, that kind of life is not ours as followers of Jesus. He says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, from living like that, from living under that burden by becoming a curse for us. He died on the cross for us. For it is written, cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole or a cross we could say. He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham, the blessing of belonging by believing might come to the Gentiles, to all people through Christ Jesus so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Holy Spirit.”

And what Paul is trying to help us understand is the grace isn’t just the beginning of the Gospel. As we said a few weeks ago, if it’s not all grace, it’s no Gospel. Grace is the beginning, and the middle, and everything through. It’s all rooted in God’s grace. It’s God’s grace that created us. He didn’t have to create us. He didn’t need us. It’s not like he had jobs to get done. He’s like, “I don’t know how to get the work done. I don’t know how to get the checklist checked off. I guess I’ll create some people.” It’s not how it happened. God created us because he wanted to love us. That’s grace. It’s an undeserved kindness. It’s the grace of God that loved us in spite of our sin and sent Jesus to die on the cross to pay the price for our sin. That’s grace. It’s the grace of God that raised Jesus from the dead and said, “If you’ll just follow Jesus, if you put your trust and faith in Jesus, you can be saved if you sin and belong to me.” That’s grace.

It’s the grace of God that sends the Holy Spirit to help us understand that we’re in that relationship. It’s the grace of God that sends the Holy Spirit to change us from the inside out so we actually become the men and women design…that God designed us to be. That’s all grace. And so really what Paul’s getting at here is the idea that grace is the glue that holds the Gospel together. Grace is the glue that moves us from believing to belonging. Grace is the glue that moves us from belonging to behaving as it changes us from the inside out. Grace is the glue that holds the whole thing together. It’s not the beginning of it, it’s the whole thing.

But that’s hard for us, isn’t it? Grace is a hard thing to grasp. And the reality is that you know, maybe you grew up in church and you never heard grace growing up. It’s a pretty good chance you could have grown up in church and not have heard grace. And by the way, that’s not necessarily the church’s fault. You might have grown up in a church that taught grace, right out of Scripture, and you still never got it. Not because it’s the church’s fault, but because it’s just so counterintuitive. Grace is not the world that we live in, our world teaches us it’s a performance-based acceptance. That it’s only when you perform that you can possibly hope to be accepted. It’s only when you behave you can possibly expect to belong.

And so even if your church taught grace perfectly, there’s a good chance that you didn’t get a handle on it, because it just is so foreign to us. Or maybe it is the church’s fault. Maybe you grew up in a church where you really didn’t hear grace. But you need to understand that’s a bad thing, but it happened for a good reason. Because grace is scary. Because the fear is that if we lean hard into grace, that means we go soft on sin. It doesn’t. But it’s so easy to think that that’s the way that it works that if we make grace the beginning, and the middle, and the end, and all that think through it, if it’s the glue that holds the Gospel together, then we can’t call sin what it is. Again, that’s just not true. But that’s the fear. If we lean hard into grace, we go soft on sin, and it’s just not true. And we have to somehow get a handle on the idea that this grace business is the Gospel.

Let me ask you a few questions. I encourage you to wrestle with these. Number one is this, where in my life do I still buy the lie that better than is good enough? Maybe none of you do. Maybe that’s just me. But here’s what I find in my life is when I find those places where my thinking goes to, “Well, but I’m better than them. I’m better than those.” When I’m beginning to think that better than is good enough, what’s happening in those moments is I’m beginning to identify the places where I’m getting off the path of relying on faith and getting onto the path of relying on my own efforts. And so those places where we realize I’m doing that are actually good indicators that I’m not letting grace be the glue. So identify those places.

Second thing I’d encourage you to do is wrestle with this, how much is grace the glue that holds my faith together? How much is grace really the essence of your faith? How much is it the way you think about dealing with other people? And maybe even harder than that, how is it the glue that holds together the way that you think about your relationship with God? Do you treat yourself with grace? Chances are you’re going to find places where grace is not the glue that it needs to be.

Which leads us to the third question, which is where in my life am I short-circuiting the power of the Spirit by relying on my own. This place where we’re not relying on grace in our relationship with others or in relationship with God, those are the places where we’re trusting in our power and not the Spirit’s who comes to us and works in us by grace. We’re going to take a moment right now to worship. I encourage you to join in singing this song or just contemplate these words, but as you do, just recognize that we all have these places in our lives where grace is not the glue. We’ve put something else in place. And what we’ve put in place is not life-giving. And somehow we’re going to have to break that. Something’s going to have to break. So the grace and the power of God’s grace can begin to flow in our lives the way it was always intended. So I encourage you to do some business with God as we sing or as you listen to this.

Would you pray with me?

Hey, God as your peoples, as followers of Jesus, we thank you for your grace. We ask you for forgiveness for all the ways that we have not kept grace as the glue that holds it all together. We ask for your forgiveness for the ways that we’ve set grace aside in our dealings with other people, even in our dealings with ourselves. And we’re grateful knowing that because of your grace that forgiveness is guaranteed, that you don’t hold that over us. We thank you for that freedom. We thank you for the call, the invitation, the completely new kind of life empowered by the Holy Spirit, who is changing us by your grace so that we might actually be the men and women that you designed us to be. Not because we’re trying harder, but because we’re actually becoming that, actually becoming that dream that you have for us.

But we’ve got questions. It’s not easy to understand how it is that we’re led by the Spirit and how trusting in grace goes together with seeking to obey and all those kinds of things. Lord, we thank you for the Book of Galatians. And that we still have a lot of truth to mine there that over the next few weeks, you’re going to help us to understand answers to some of those questions. But Lord, we thank you that even when our understanding is deficient, your Holy Spirit is not. So Lord, we ask that you teach us to follow your Spirit. And Lord we asked you for this too, right now, would you touch hearts that are listening to this message, specifically those hearts that are not yet yours. Those people who have not yet said yes to following Jesus.

And if that’s you if I can just speak you for a moment. My hope is that somehow today you heard maybe for the first time in a way that connected that God loves you. That you don’t have to earn your way into God’s favor, that God has an undeserved kindness for you, expressed in the fact that he sent his own Son to die to pay the price for all the wrong you’ve done. And God raised him from the dead three days later. And God gives you the opportunity to be forgiven of your sins, to belong to God for now and forever simply by putting your trust in Jesus. And my hope is that as you’re hearing this right now, the Spirit is working on you. And you find yourself realizing that you need to make that decision, that you need to say yes to faith in Jesus. Here’s how you do it. There’s nothing to keep you from doing it. There’s nothing else you need to do except say yes. So right here right now, would you trust Jesus? Just say something like this to God right now. Say:

God I’ve done wrong. I’m sorry. Jesus, thank you for dying from my sin. I believe you rose from the dead. I understand that you’re offering me forgiveness, belonging to God simply by faith. I’m ready to put my faith in you, Jesus. Jesus, I’m going to follow you from here on out. Thank you for forgiveness, for a relationship with God, and for the blessings that come from belonging to his family. Amen.

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