Legalism is a fairly well-known term. Often used as a description of a personality… She is legalistic
But…“Ism”=designates a belief system.
Legal+ism=a belief system based on obeying laws
A less well-known term, but one that is the alter-ego of Legalism is “antinomianism”
“nomian”=comes from a Greek word for law
So…antinomianism=a belief system that is against “law obedience”
So—legalism’s opposite…is antinomianism.
Legalism=keeping laws is the way to the best possible life
Antinomianism=freedom to do as I please is the best possible life
The truth, as is often the case, is neither of these pole positions.
Galatians is a presentation of the Gospel…the good news that the best life possible, in fact the only way to real life, is through faith in Christ.
I cannot earn what is freely given by God
Since humans are prone to the “pendulum error” Paul finishes by addressing how grace does not lead to “doing whatever I want”…there is no freedom in that…
The pendulum error is where, as groups or individuals, move away from one error they tend to swing past center towards an opposite error.
“I am free from law keeping, my whole life I have done things to try and please God and people now I know that by grace I am accepted by God…from now on I will do what I want to do since God loves me no matter what.”
So, for instance…Since, I cannot earn God’s favor by going to church, I no longer will…I don’t want have to.
On the one hand it is true…God’s favor is not earned by participation community worship…on the other hand… growth, impact and the enjoyment of God and his people is gained through it…why wouldn’t you want to?
You don’t earn salvation through participation in faith community…but the opportunity to be a part of a faith community is a grace gift of God…why wouldn’t you to participate?
Tyler Vanderweel is a Harvard epidemiologist whose research has centered on the public health benefits of religion…spiritual practices in community.
He has done excellent work on how participation in a faith community is one of the strongest predictors of health as measured in multiple ways…physical and otherwise.
“An interesting aspect of the religious participation research is that it suggests, religious service attendance, rather than self-accessed spirituality or private practices…most powerfully predicts health and well-being.”
So…when God directs his people to meet together in worship he is not setting arbitrary rules to make us miserable…or hurdles to clear in order to prove our worth to him.
He is actually directing us to do what is best for us.
Which by the way…is why so many Christians have been intent on figuring out ways to continue meet in community the past couple of years.
Some think it is strange or foolish that Christians would make worship in community such a big deal…but they fail to understand…we are not “checking a box”…we know that it is essential to thriving.
This is true of any number of things that God asks of his people.
What he asks of is in line with what he wants for us…since he has designed us…he does in fact know what it best for us.
Paul wrote, “All thing are lawful…but not all things are beneficial”
Why, because you can…would you intentionally do things that are contrary to what is best or fail to do things that are good to do?
Grace leads to a life of love for God and others that is free from earning…and free from the tyranny of a self-serving lifestyle…and free to live life as God has designed it.
Grace grows us up…it doesn’t make us more like selfish children…who are prone to look for ways to get away with things…it makes us less like that.
Today we finish Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia (modern Turkey)
We will begin in the last verse of chapter 5 and into chapter 6.
5:26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.
Conceited means literally “empty of glory” or an older English word “vainglorious”
We don’t really use that word any more…so “conceited” is how it is translated….but that word doesn’t quite capture the depth of the word.
FF Bruce says that to be “empty of glory” is to sense an inner emptiness and desperately try to fill it with affirmation and recognition from other people…to try and prove yourself.
This conceited…thinking of self-first, because of an internal void…is a natural human inclination…we are “empty of glory”…God alone is glorious.
Here is how it shows up in relationships:
-Provoking and envying one another
Envy=compare yourself to others
Provoking=actively competing with others in the service of one’s ego.
With this background…let’s look at Galatians 6.
Read it like this… “Don’t live self-serving, ego driven lives…instead live like this…”
6:1 Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.
What he means by “you who are spiritual” is simply…you who are a Christian.
This is not some “elite” special forces…advanced Christian…it’s YOU and me.
Last week we saw that…the fruit of the Spirit…is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness…is not something we try to produce…it is what grows in the life of the Christ follower who is paying attention to Christ.
Here is one way that the Spirit in you produces His fruit that shows up in relationships.
You see someone fail or struggling…you do what you can to restore them to spiritual health.
But watch yourself…or you will also be tempted
In what way? Tempted to what?
Maybe he is warning about being drawn into their sin…but more likely(in context) he is talkingthe temptation to be like the man in Jesus’ parable…to be full of pride and “conceit” in regards to others.
9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ 13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ 14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
We don’t move through life in a “vain glorious” or empty-hearted way…we are not empty…we are continually being “filled with the Spirit”…or ideally so.
And that fullness of Spirit…produces fruit that blesses others.
Empty hearts are desperate to be filled with the applause of others, they are competitive and jealous of the success of others…when others fail…they secretly find satisfaction in it…
“At least that wasn’t me.”
“I guess they aren’t that great after all…thought so!”
Or they are arrogant… “Glad I’m not like that…weak, sinful…”
Paul is speaking to those whose hearts are not supposed to be empty space anymore.
He is speaking to those whose hearts are filled with the Holy Spirit…the fruit that flows from that fullness leads to a life lived like Christ lived his.
2 Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
If someone is carrying a heavy load (burden) we need to put our shoulders up under it with them…when possible.
This, he says, is how we fulfill the “law of Christ.”
So, we are not under the law anymore…we neither live under the burden of the law or the burden of our sin.
But the law of Christ is that we now live taking up one another’s burdens.
This is the opposite of conceit, envy, and provocation…it is love in practical action.
That is the law of Christ…the only law we are compelled to obey.
Paul wrote elsewhere… “Let no debt remain outstanding except the continuing debt to love one another.”
Our debt to God has been paid…now go spend your life paying off the debt of love to each other.
3 If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.
1 Cor. 4:7 “What do you have that you did not receive?”
As we live in relationship with one another…we must keep in the front of our minds that all we have… is gift.
When we look at others…especially when they have fallen into sin, or a difficult time…as we are able, we put our shoulders under their burden with them.
But we never do it from the perspective that “we are good, strong, or smart…they are not.”
Or, perhaps you are the one who is being crushed by a too heavy burden…and someone else is helping you lift…you are not to see yourself as less and them as more.
4 Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, 5 for each one should carry his own load.
A burden is a crushing weight…more than an individual can carry.
A load is a backpack…something each person has that is theirs to carry…still heavy, but doable.
So, the idea is that…we don’t look at others and think “Wow…I’m way better or way worse than they are.”
As we come alongside each other…realizing that what we have is not because of anything great in us…or if they come to help us, we don’t envy them because they are able to help and we are in the place of need.
None of that matters…bear each other’s burdens…fulfill the law of Christ.
At the same time as, we look to the interests of others by helping shoulder their loads…we must prove faithful with what God has given us to carry.
Here is where we can, in a real sense, “take pride” in ourselves.
But what we take pride in is in being faithful with what has been given to us…not in how we compare to others.
So, it is really about finding joy in God and what he has given.
We don’t compete… “I’m better…your better”
We love and pursue faithfulness.
“God, find me faithful with you have given me. I will rejoice, take pride…in hearing from you “well done! Good and faithful servant.”
6 Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor.
So what I think Paul is doing here is…
Highlighting the reality and importance of truth
“Share all good things” is a euphemism for pay the ones who are teaching you truth
-Jesus sent out 70 disciples to preach the gospel…he said “don’t take extra provisions”…let those who receive the truth from you provide for your needs.
So, Paul is reminding them of the vital of importance of truth.
He is doing this by pointing out the importance of paying those whose job it is to teach the truth.
Imagine how these new Christians were feeling…Paul had shown up and taught them one thing…it was liberating.
Then the Judaizers showed up and they were quite convincing and taught them something else…
Then Paul comes back and says…no they are wrong.
What often happens over time is that people become cynical… “who can know truth anyway?”
*Think of our current social/political situation
A large number of people in our society…are just exasperated…they have given up on knowing what is real…about public health, politics…any number of important issues.
Theologically…“I grew up hearing this in church, youth group, home…but didn’t know about that…or this…nobody told me (Or I didn’t listen)…what is truth anyway…can I know truth…is there truth?”
I was watching a documentary on the Bee Gees…they are the 5th highest selling recording artists of all times…over a hundred million albums.
*Why…you might ask, would I watch a documentary on the Bee Gees?
Partly because it popped up on my search for documentaries…as I was pedaling at the Y.
Mostly…I am fascinated by people who were massively popular and successful…who are now…dead or on the sidelines of culture.
Anyway…the sole surviving brother (of 4), Barry Gibb starts the film by saying… “I have concluded that nothing is real, there is only perception.”
This is not an uncommon conclusion for people who have been tossed around by a variety of “isms”…belief systems.
By the way “atheism” or “Deism” or “nihilism”…are isms… unbelief=belief systems.
Anyway…when there are so many conflicting “isms” out there…
Instead of concluding something is true, and I really need to find it…they can conclude nothing is true…or I can’t find it.
So, Paul is not being self-serving when he says “Hey, pay those who teach you truth.”
He is not getting anything from them personally…he wants something for them.
Value the truth of the gospel so much that you are willing to pay those God has called to teach you…
make sure they actually teach truth…and there is, he is telling them, knowable and livable…absolute truth.
Next, he highlights the foundational reality of reaping and sowing
He goes back to the metaphor of chapter 5 “The fruit of the spirit”
But with a different twist…there, the fruit of the Spirit grows in us as we pay attention to Jesus.
Here, though we do not earn God’s favor…we do, absolutely reap what we sow.
This is…that antidote to antinomianism.
We cannot earn God’s favor…but we do experience fruit based on how we live our lives.
This is that great balancing tension…that is so easily lost.
Do I need to do good or not?
No and yes.
You do not need to do good in order to be saved…Christ alone has earned that gift for you.
You do need to do good in order to live out your salvation…to enjoy…to eat good fruit.
You are, going to reap what you sow…the seeds you plant become the harvest you enjoy…or suffer with.
7 Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. 8 The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. 9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
***The great enemy of long-term faithfulness is time.
One of the ways we like to talk about faithfulness is “time will tell”
Time will tell what?
Whether what I am seeing now is real…because what is real will endure.
People can, on their own steam, keep up certain behaviors for a time…but IF it is not really who they are…or who they are becoming…time will tell.
*Its why we don’t put people in leadership until they have been around for a while…it’s not good for them or for us to do otherwise…because TWT.
My NT professor used to say, in regards to those who walk away from the faith… that “faith that fizzles at the finish was faulty at the first.”
Not that real faith won’t faulter at times…but that it will endure till the end…it will recover.
Not because of our strength…but because Jesus himself is the author (beginning) and the perfector(finisher) of our faith… “He who began a good work in us, will complete it.”
But Paul knows…this life of faith is both good and hard…and it is lived day at time…or sometimes, minute by minute…when we are suffering.
We can become confused, perplexed.
And there most often is a lag time between sowing and reaping…so it is common to become weary in doing good.
But we must not.
*Loving people…and they don’t respond well.
*Being faithful…and it doesn’t seem to be going well.
Don’t become weary…you will reap…if you endure.
This is complex stuff…it is that two dial tuning thing.
So…we cannot earn God’s favor…legalism is not real.
And…we do reap what we sow…antinomianism is not real.
Gospel is real…receive by faith the good news of Jesus…then live out that faith through a life of sowing to please the Spirit.
What that most often looks like…is doing good, as we have opportunity…for others…especially to those God has put in your faith family.
Verse 11 is simply Paul signing this letter that he has been dictating.
11 See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!
And then finishes his letter with a final warning about the motives of the false teachers…and a statement of the one legitimate human boast…the Cross of Christ
12 Those who want to make a good impression outwardly are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13 Not even those who are circumcised obey the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your flesh.
So, the Judaizers were trying to compel law obedience, even though they themselves could not keep it…and it turns out it was driven by their desire to please others…to make a good outward impression.
In his book, “The Weight of Glory”, a collection of essays by CS Lewis there is one he calls “The Inner Ring”…I think it is timeless in its application.
He describes human relationships as these concentric rings…circles inside circles.
We are driven by a desire to be “in” one of these rings…and then to move farther and farther in.
These inner rings are everywhere…workplace, playgrounds, social media.
He writes that the desire to be in an inner ring is “one of the great permanent mainsprings(driving forces) of human action.”
“Unless you take measures to prevent it, this desire is going to be one of the chief motives of which your life, from the first day on which you enter your profession to the die when you are too old to care.”
“Whether by pining and moping outside Rings that you can never enter, or by passing triumphantly further and further in—one way or the other you will be that kind of man.”
“As long as you are governed by that desire (to get inside a ring) you will never get what you want. You are trying to peel an onion; if you succeed there will be nothing left. Until you conquer the fear of being an outsider, an outsider you will remain.”
This sounds like Gal. 1:10 “If I am seeking to please people, I am not pleasing Christ.”
Paul exposes these Judaizers…they are driven by the passion of the inner ring.
They want to make an impression and they don’t want to be persecuted for the truth of the gospel…summed up in a single phrase… “The cross of Christ.”
But he writes about himself.
14 May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation.
Not that he couldn’t stoop to false boasting…but that he absolutely doesn’t want to… “May I never…”
We don’t chase the legalism inner ring (look how disciplined and spiritual I am)
We don’t chase the antinomianism inner ring (look at how free and liberated I am)
We have been accepted in God’s inner Ring…through the Cross of Christ.
You have been accepted by God…Father, Son, Spirit…if you are new Creation in Christ…you are in!
You are okay…more than okay.
But the core belief, the starting point for the Christian is not “I’m Okay”…it is the cross.
At the cross…we see that we ARE NOT OKAY
I am okay, now…because of the cross…I have been accepted into fellowship with God the Father through the sacrifice of Jesus.
The key to mental, spiritual health is not to pursue “self-esteem”…that simply has not worked though it has been tried by millions for decades.
The key, the starting point is the “Cross of Christ”
The doctrine, the theological truth…that God became man died on a cross for the sins of mankind.
Tim Keller writes of how in Matt. 16 Jesus asks Peter, “Who do you say that I am?”
Peter responds, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”
Jesus is happy with his answer, saying that that kind of answer had to come from God…not just Peter.
Then Jesus immediately starts talking about the cross…he is going to Jerusalem, to suffer, be tortured, and killed and rise again.
Peter becomes upset and rebukes Jesus “No way this will never happen to you!”
Jesus replies “Get behind me Satan, you are a stumbling block to me…you don’t have in mind the things of God but the things of men.”
“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever wants to lose his life for me will find it.”
If you read the four gospels you might think of them as biographies of Jesus…but if they are, then they are very strange ones.
They give 30, 40, and even 50 percent (John) to the last week of his life.
Jesus Christ came to go the cross…it is central.
The cross is an offense…a stumbling block, a scandal…Paul calls it.
Back in chapter 5 he said that his opponents wanted to remove the offense of the cross…but he would not go along with it.
The cross has been called by intellectuals through the years:
“Intellectually contemptible and morally outrageous”
“Cosmic child abuse”
The cross of Christ says all people have to be saved in exactly the same way
Everyone, everywhere…there are not many roads…there is one.
This is deeply disturbing, offensive to human sensibility…how can this be so?
What about those who haven’t even heard?
What about sincere believers of other faiths?
If you haven’t struggled with this yet… then you probably will…or you may not have considered the implications of it.
But Paul says we are to do much more than believe it as matter of fact…more than struggle with it intellectually.
Though it is truth to be believed as a fact.
We are to make it our one boast…put this truth at the center of our being.
The result will be the opposite of arrogance… “I’m right, your wrong”. “I’m good your bad.” “I’m smart you’re not.”
The result of the cross as the center…is going to be humility and love.
If humility and love are absent from our lives…then whatever we profess to be true…what is in fact true about us…the cross is not the boast of our heart…something else it.
On the very level of our core identity…our confidence, our strength…we are to put the cross of Christ there.
Make no mistake…everyone has something right there at the core…everyone has the one thing…that is their “boast”
Our “boast” is the thing at the center, that which we often “lead with”…move through life with…or fall back to when we feel insecure or threatened.
At our core…we have what we believe makes us us.
Maybe we don’t walk in the room and announce. “Hey I’m smart, a good parent, honest, perceptive, I’m creative, not a hypocrite, Chief’s fan, I can do this in the gym, or that at work…or I have this view or orientation, or this was done to me….”
There are so many options for what sits at our core…and becomes “our boast”
What we believe: Christ died in space and time (human history) on the cross. He was in actual fact, God who took on human flesh to die for my sins…this is the key event in all of history.
What we value in our hearts: We will not allow our hearts to cherish inner rings. We will not allow our hearts to chase after foolish and empty boasts. We will boast/learn to value the Cross of Christ.
What we do with our lives: We will move through life looking to bless not impress. We will live the crucified with Christ life among the people God has put around me.
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live…but Christ lives in me. The life I live in my body I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.” Gal. 2:20
Everyone…believes something is real(true)
-Barry Gibb… said confidently “I don’t believe anything is real, only perceptions”
Yet, he believed that is real.
Everyone has something that they have wrapped their hearts around…it has become the engine that drives their lives…their core “boast”
At the end of the documentary…that started with Barry confidently saying “nothing is real.”
At the end of a historical, video depiction of decades of success, huge crowds, money, fame…there is this single surviving brother, standing alone by a body of water.
A brother who for years fought with one of his younger brothers over who was going to have the most limelight…and for years he lived separated from all of his brothers.
There at the end…this last brother…no lime lights, no crowds, no do overs…says “I would trade it all(gold records, fame, money) to have my brothers back again.”
He lived for years out of what he had wrapped his heart around…and it has left him with money, and gold records, and lots of regret.
May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation.
The core of my identity must be that Christ loves me and died for me.
And since that is my one boast…the world itself has been put to death to me.
Money cannot my identify…I can’t let it drive me…if I do, it will make me empty.
The inner ring cannot not drive my life…If it does…I will become emptier and emptier.
Health cannot be my highest priority…important…but not all important
Same with jobs, possessions.
We don’t move through life like a spiritual vacuum… “give me…my soul is empty…I need”
We have the opportunity to move through life bearing fruit and sowing seeds…harvest and beauty growing in and around us…because the Spirit of God is continually filling us…we are not empty.
We are in the “inner ring” that matters…now live that way…secure, loved, full.
This kind of life is possible…not impossible.
Not in perfection but in direction.
It is possible because this is not about rules and rituals and our ability to keep them.
It is possible because of the reality of the gospel as the power of God in human hearts.
Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation.
The desire, the drive to be in an inner ring is built into us…but the inner ring we are designed for is relationship with God.
When my granddaughter Eva came over after her first day of school…she was in tears.
It was her first time to not be in class with her twin…and Haddie, as it turns out had all their good friends in class with her and Eva knew no one in her.
Eva was left without an inner ring…it is sad, hard…and it part of how God has made us to want this.
By the way, Eva has a million new friends a couple of weeks in…she is good.
But what empowers us to venture out and shoulder burdens…to live without “vainglory” or jealousy…what allows us to lay aside earning and self-seeking…
We are IN THE inner Ring…God has accepted us, one translation says “We are accepted into the beloved.”
So…what counts is…being new creation in Christ.
Our one legitimate boast: I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live but Christ lives in me