Around 50AD, maybe 16 years after Christ had died and rose from the dead…the church was already drifting by degrees towards its first great crisis.
The church initially consisted largely of Jewish Christians
But as more and more non-Jews came to faith in Christ the questions of what do with the law, the OT, the Jewish heritage of Christianity…became more and more of an issue.
Basically the question became…do you have to become a Jew before you can become a Christian?
The people who said “yes, you do” were even given their own name…they were called Judaizers.
The church struggled with how much of the law of Moses applies?
If you think about it the struggle makes sense…Christians still struggle with what to do with the OT.
What applies, how does it apply to Christ followers?
The problem was that some came to wrong conclusions and taught those wrong conclusions to those were young in their faith.
The wrong conclusions were a blending of salvation by grace through faith with self-effort.
So the conflict moved in the direction of the destruction of Christian unity (splitting the church into warring factions) and it threatened the survival of the gospel of grace.
But the missionary to the Gentiles, himself a Jew, Paul, turned the tide
Paul had proclaimed the gospel to the folks in the region called Galatia, which is modern day Turkey.
He was there for a good while because of an extended illness…and was treated well and well received.
Then after he left Jewish teachers from Jerusalem claiming to be from James, Jesus’ brother(adding a sort of celebrity credibility) had come in and said that Paul was wrong.
They said that non-Jews must come under the law of Moses in order to be saved.
And to demonstrate their commitment…they needed to be circumcised…the key sign of the covenant.
Paul was very angry…not because he was being disagreed with but because of what was at stake in the lives of people.
He saw that if these (Judiazers) prevailed then the work of Jesus on the cross would be emptied of all power in people’s lives.
Paul wrote a letter to the churches in the region to push back on this threat to the gospel.
It’s called “Galatians” in our Bibles.
We call it a book, but it was a letter written to address a specific situation…and it was meant to copied and circulated around the region.
The letter is organized around responses to three charges that were made against Paul in an attempt to undermine his credibility.
The Three charges/responses:
1. He was not a true apostle (he was not with Jesus in person like the 12)…imposter.
-He retold them the story of his life and his call and his personal encounter with Christ. (1,2)
2. They said his message was not the true gospel.
-He responds by writing that salvation has always been by faith not works. (3,4)
-Specifically he talks about how God had declared Abraham righteous on the basis of faith years before either circumcision or the law was given.
3. They said that Paul’s approach would lead to sinful living. (5,6)
-The argument went like this:
-If you tell people they don’t have to do anything to earn salvation then they will
do just that…nothing.
-If the law as a requirement in order to be accepted by God were taken away…where would the incentive to do the right thing be?
-Clearly people would live lawless immoral lives…without the treat of punishment and weight of laws.
*What’s wrong with this thinking is that it misses the whole point of regeneration…we are born again to a new Creation.
*It also forgets that even under the law, with threat of punishment…the people continually rebelled against God.
That is the whole point…threat of punishment or promise of gain…apart from inner transformation…doesn’t work.
We don’t have to obey God…we want to, we now get to…what God wants, we are learning to want.
-Paul’s response is that the gospel does not lead people from law to nothing but to Jesus Christ who dwells in believers through the person of the Holy Spirit.
-The Holy Spirit empowers believers to obey because the change is internal.
-It is from within (transformation) not from without (external law) that the Holy Spirit produces the fruit that is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” Gal. 5:22-23
It is neither legalism (living under laws)
Or license (living free from all restraint)
Because neither of these is freedom…both are just different forms of bondage.
You can live in the jail cell of law
The jail cell of lawlessness
OR you can live in the gospel freedom of Christ…an internal transformation that shows up in all aspects of your life.
Let’s read where Paul’s letter transitions from a defense of his authority and his message to the fact that the gospel, far from leading to a life of sin (which is the absence of freedom), leads to a life of real freedom.
Gal. 5:1-6 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
Again he outlined his letter in three parts:
1. Demonstrates his authority (why should they listen to him)
2. Demonstrates the accuracy of his message (grace through faith)
3. Demonstrates how the gospel leads to freedom from both from law and sin.
First he restates the theme of the entire letter in 5:1
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
Hold firmly to your freedom in Christ…stand firm on grace…if you go down this path(self-effort apart from grace), you will lose your freedom.
It can be simplier to live with a sort of scorecard to measure how we are doing than by a relationship…but simple is not always better…in this case its not.
Obeyed that rule “check”. Didn’t do that bad thing “check”
“What about your heart?”…now that is more complicated.
Paul said…”Mark my words!” or “Hey, pay attention!”
If you go the route of circumcism (a symbol of “scorecard Christianity”) then Christ will be of no use to you…you are back on your own.
You can’t have it both ways…self-effort and grace…it is either or in terms of salvation.
If you put anything in front of Christ or along with Christ, then that thing is what you will be relying on to save you.
Again…don’t get confused by the whole circumcision thing.
It was the key physical symbol of the Covenant of God with his people.
But it was always a visible symbol of an invisible reality (confidence in God’s covenant promise)…it was never supposed to be the focal point.
So it was being taught that you must become a “law keeper” indicated by circumcision before you could be a grace partaker.
Do you see the problem with this?
Paul actually couldn’t care less about circumcision as ceremony…the ceremony is not his concern it is the thinking behind it that was potentially devastating.
5:6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value.
If a person really believed they could do something to earn God’s favor…then they had shifted their life’s foundation from Christ to self-effort.
They had left relationship and had become card carrying score keepers…score keeping leads to pride or fear or both…but not to love…not to relationship.
One of the signs of a marriage relationship gone bad is called “score keeping”
Though love isn’t blind…it doesn’t keep record of wrongs or boast of “rights”
So Legalism is a poor substitute for relationship…legalism is score keeping in an attempt to earn from God what cannot be earned but can be had through relationship.
The act of circumsicism itself was not the issue, but the thinking that was behind the push to be circumcised in order to be acceptable to God was the issue.
If a person actually believes he or she can contribute to their own salvation…they have made themselves co-partners with God in their minds.
“Yea, me and God…we got this?”
It is not long before God becomes the Jr. Partner in the relationship…”Yea, God, I got this.”
These are foolish and devastating thinking patterns.
The Bible begins with…”In the beginning…God”
Everything originates from him, all belongs to him, and is created for him…including us.
We are not his partners…but we can, because of the Gospel…be his sons and daughters.
The two effects of this “God as Jr-partner” or “Score-card” approach are:
-Pride (“see how much better I am than others.” “see how good I am doing here”)
*I’m really closing the gap
-Insecurity (“look how much better others are than me.” “see how badly I am doing”)
*I have not closed the gap at all
Almost always the two eventually go together as a sort of set of evil twins…our lives are eventually driven by both pride and insecurity.
But there is another set of twins, these are the beautiful twins…that are results of living in gospel freedom.
Galatians 5:6b “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”
Just as pride and insecurity run together as a destructive team…so faith and love travel together as a transformational team.
Growth in faith (confidence in God) will always show up in growth in love for others.
“The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself in love.”
Not circumscism, not law obedience…but a life of transferred trust to God (faith) that shows up in a life of love expressed to others.
So this is a very good single phrase description of the Christian life.
“The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself in love.”
That verse along with 2 Thess. 1:3 have been the foundation for our year’s study on “closing the gap on faith and love.”
2Th. 1:3 We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing.
WE close the gap when…
Faith towards God is growing.
Love for one another is increasing
Old Radio Dials: Both must be tuned in to get music not static.
1. One dial: Hopelessly worthless sinners…who are powerless to change on our own
2. Second dial: Hard working saints…who have new power and desire to change
If one dial is not tuned in…then we get only static…no music
The static of dial one…the hopelessly worthless sinner dial…is a passive acceptance of who am I.
-“addicted” “Yep, of course I am…I am powerless to change.”
-“angry, judgmental, vain, anxious…huge gap between me and Christ…yes…that is me and will always be me”
The static of dial two…hard working saint is…a failure to be accepted as I am right now.
-“Must work harder this year, no time to rest…I can do better, be better.”
-“God could never love me like this.”
-“Wow, everyone has closed the gap but me…must keep working.”
*Jesus says “Stop, come sit with me.”
*We say “No can do, must close the gap”
The music of tuning in both dials is:
-I can do nothing to make myself acceptable to God, I am a sinner and I cannot change apart from the grace of God.
I am a son, daughter of God…I work because I am loved…I pursue change because I can change…I want to, I get to participate with God in this adventure of becoming like Christ.
The music plays when we live in the balance of “Full effort on our part that flows from a foundation of our full acceptance on God’s part.“
This is no formula…this is the reality of relationship.
My grandson is (I believe) confident that I love him (and I do) unconditionally…and he will try very hard to do things that please me (and his effort does please me).
So which is it…is he loved and I am pleased by him regardless of his efforts or does he work to please me?
Of course the fallacy is the or…He is loved regardless of his efforts and he works to please me…because he loves me and I love him.
This is a small picture of the reality of God our father and the potential for us to live as beloved sons and daughters.
So…as you look back on 2018 and lean into 2019…which dial do you need to give more attention to?
Or do you just need to continue to keep the balance?
All of life requires ongoing attention to balance…mental, spiritual, physical, relational.
It should be no surprise that our relationship with God requires ongoing attention to balance.
Each of us has a different personality, background, and life setting…these differences mean we will need to adjust the dials in different ways.
We will all struggle to be balanced in these same areas…but we will struggle to be balanced in these areas in different ways.
Do you need to pay more attention to vision and effort “I can change, grace calls me and empowers me to do so.”
Or more attention to resting in God’s grace…”I am loved as I am, right here, right now…even if nothing changes in me…God accepts me in Christ.”
Grace it not opposed to effort but earning…effort is action, earning is attitude.
After a year of looking at closing the gap…my concern is that we will lean too far into effort and not into resting in the finished work of Christ.
Bottom line: If you have given your life to Christ, if you have trusted his finished work on the cross to save you and restore you to God.
Then if you look at 2018 and you feel you did not close the gap at all…this is unfortunate…but not tragic.
Because you remain…loved by God
Eph. 1:6,7 the King James Translation says it like this…
“…he hath made us accepted in the beloved, in whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.”
Such a beautiful poetic expression…accepted in the beloved.
The beloved is of course Christ…we are accepted because of his work not our own.
Through his blood we have forgiveness…we have relationship with God because of the riches of his grace…not our ability to close the gap.
Closing the gap is opportunity, privilege, a reality we can experience…we can grow, change…we do not have to stay static, stuck.
But we cannot lose sight of the reality of grace…closing the gap as motivational opportunity must not become legalistic rule keeping.
If you closed the gap on faith and love this year…give glory to God…enjoy the results.
If you did not, or feel you did not…then move into next year with a sense of anticipation and opportunity not guilt and dread…you are accepted in the beloved.
Balance…tune those dials.
If you are a follower of Christ you must be careful to not retreat back into an “earning” mode.
A prisoner may be out of his cell but in his heart and mind still locked up behind mental and emotional bars.
Christians have been set free from earning God’s favor, but they must choose to live fully in that freedom.
We cannot earn but we can and must apply effort to grow.
When we try to live in an earning posture towards God we are choosing to live in a jail cell.
The door to the cell is unlocked and open; we can walk out if we want to.
There is no jailer there guarding the door, there is no judge or judgment to sentence us there.
If we sit in this cell we do so because we have put ourselves there.
But love freely offered, whether from another person or from God, requires ongoing action and attitudes to enjoy and experience that love.
Do not confuse these actions and efforts with earning, they are not the same.
The actions are motivated by gratitude and devotion, they are the choices of a person who has been accepted and wants to experience and express this acceptance more fully.
We work…to enjoy the freedom we have been given.
*I meet a young man this week who lost both legs to an IED in Afgh.
-He is an impressive person…snowboards, surfs, scuba and sky dives
-But he cannot walk…he does not enjoy that freedom.
Walking is effort…and walking is freedom.
Closing the gap is effort…closing the gap is freedom.
The “earner” is trying to be or feel accepted, their actions are driven by insecurity, pride and fear.
Their actions may look similar to the one who is enjoying not earning…but the attitudes and the final effect on the soul are quite different.
Reject anything that smacks of earning, earning is an affront to love.
Choose actions and attitudes that will move you farther into joy, action is the close friend of love…earning is not.
As another year comes to a close and in two days you wake up to a new year what has really changed?
A number we arbitrarily assign to “today” has gone from a thirty-one to a one.
Likewise a number assigned to the year 2018 has become 2019
But what has “actually” changed? Have you changed? How do you measure whether you have?
You can measure a year or a day gone by on a calendar.
But how do you measure whether you have grown in faith and love?
There are ways to see growth but it is hard if not impossible to quantify real change in faith and love.
We measure things in order to see if something is actually happening or not. To see if what we are doing is working.
So we get on a scale to see if the number has dropped and therefore our plan for weight loss is effective.
But in closing the gap on faith and love we don’t really need to measure to know if what we are doing is working.
You can measure how many times you prayed or read your Bible.
You can keep track of how many times you served others or even how many times you held your tongue and did not speak in anger to others.
These are not bad but they do not automatically measure actual growth in faith and love.
They may be effective means to that end but they certainly do not in themselves indicate you are achieving the end…internal growth.
Means are important, they are necessary, and we will not progress without them.
But measurement, in terms of closing the gap on faith and love is not so important. If it helps to find ways to track “progress” fine, use them.
*We are going to focus on 12 passages to memorize next year
-Easy to determine if you memorized them
-But how do you measure if you have been changed, shaped by them
But don’t confuse measurements with actual change.
Learn to measure in the right now. Is my heart, right now saying, “yes” to the Lord? If not, then repent and return to “yes.”
If so, rejoice, and live out that yes.
Israel was being trained to trust. The way the Lord did this was not by giving them a map but by leading them day-by-day very directly by a cloud and a pillar of fire.
With a map…they could measure progress easily.
But he wanted them to trust him day by day…that was progress.
“At the LORD’s command the Israelites set out, and at his command they encamped. As long as the cloud stayed over the tabernacle, they remained in camp. When the cloud remained over the tabernacle a long time, the Israelites obeyed the LORD’s order and did not set out. Sometimes the cloud was over the tabernacle only a few days; at the LORD’s command they would encamp, and then at his command they would set out. Sometimes the cloud stayed only from evening till morning, and when it lifted in the morning, they set out. Whether by day or by night, whenever the cloud lifted, they set out. Whether the cloud stayed over the tabernacle for two days or a month or a year, the Israelites would remain in camp and not set out; but when it lifted, they would set out.”(Numbers 9:18-22)
This is how the Lord wants us to measure progress.
Are we right now following his lead? Are we living in a state of ready “yes!”
If not we repent.
If so we rejoice.
It’s okay to look for ways to measure growth…but be careful that you do not trade relationship for a scorecard.
If you feel disappointed with 2018…what about right now?
*Lift your hands and give it to him…it is nearly done
If you feel happy about 2018…what about right now?
*Lift your hands and give it to him…it is nearly done
Closing the gap will always come down to this moment…not the past or the future.
To close the gap always comes down to us saying “yes” to God right now…whether is it the “yes” of starting over or the “yes” of continuing down his good path.
As you lean into the future…measure in the moment…continually turn your heart back to “yes”