In about a month, we'll be working our way through Paul's letter to the Galatians. Galatians is Paul's masterwork on Christian freedom.
Today, as we reflect on Good Friday and Palm Sunday, we'll look at the overall theme of Galatians. Freedom. Our freedom is directly tied to Good Friday...when Jesus died on the cross. Our freedom is primarily about freedom from sin and death, which is only possible in the cross of Christ. Jesus' death on the cross frees us from sin and death.
Here's what concerned Paul about the Galatian church. They were moving toward adding things to the cross. We've talked about this before. In the broader sense, anytime you add anything to Jesus, you get nothing. Anything-plus-Jesus=nothing. Always. Jesus' primary purpose was to die on the cross to free us from sin and death. That's the primary purpose. That's Christian freedom. Jesus+prosperity=nothing. Jesus+political conservatism=nothing. Jesus+political progressivism=nothing. You get the point. Anytime you try to add anything to Jesus' primary purpose, you lose Jesus.
That's what was happening to the church at Galatia.
The hallmark of being a Christian is freedom. In John 8:31-32, we read, "So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, 'If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.'” Jesus is looking ahead to his death on the cross. He wants them to understand the purpose of his death. Then, in John 8:36, Jesus says, "So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." Again, Jesus is foreshadowing his death on the cross. Freedom from sin and death.
Jesus' death on the cross frees us from the tyranny of sin and death. That is essential. And that's what the Galatians were at risk of losing. It's never good to loosen your grip on the essential truth of the gospel.
Here's one man's list of the essential truths of the gospel. These are the non-negotiables:
Jesus is God.
Jesus is the Son of God.
Jesus is eternal.
Jesus was virgin born.
Jesus lived a sinless life.
Jesus died a substitutionary death.
Jesus rose from the dead.
Jesus ascended to God.
Jesus is returning.
Jesus is the only way to God.
If you lose any of these, you lose the Christian faith.
So Paul says to the Galatians:
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
- Galatians 5:1
In other words, hold fast to what Jesus Christ did for you on the cross.
Toward that goal, we're going to look at two subtle ways our Christian
FIRST, BEWARE OF BECOMING A PERFECTIONIST.
Here's how Paul puts it in Galatians 3:1-3:
O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?
How many of you grew up with parents who were hard to please? Or whose parents are still hard to please? If you got C's, they questioned why you didn't get B's, and so on. Your best was never good enough.
Sometimes people see God in the same way. They have this notion that doing things to please God is the way to earn His love. God is always demanding that they shape up. My dad used to say, "Shape up or ship out," and sometimes it really felt like he meant it. For perfectionists, no matter how much they serve the Lord, it's never enough.
Paul says that will steal your joy. Perfectionism. It's feeling like anything less than perfect is unacceptable. The perfectionist imagines God as some big nag in the sky. But nagging doesn’t produce anything. It doesn't work at home. It doesn't work at church. And it isn't who God is or what He does.
The cross says, "You don't have to be perfect. You don't have to earn God's favor. You don't have to save yourself." Jesus didn't die on the cross so God could nag us. Jesus died on the cross to bring glory to the Father. Jesus died so we could be adopted into God's family.
Here's something you might want to write down:
Perfectionism is based on fear of God rather than on the love of God.
Paul says that's foolish. That's what he calls them…you foolish Galatians.
We'll never be able to measure up to God.
So what's the solution? 2 Corinthians 12:9 says:
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
If you don't understand anything else, understand this - God loves you conditionally unconditionally. In other words, when Jesus took the fullness and horribleness of our sin upon himself on the cross, that is the condition upon which God loves us unconditionally. Without the cross, we would be deserving of nothing but the wrath of God. It is the cross through which God loves us unconditionally. God loves you on your good days. He loves you on your bad days. He loves you when your life is a loud, screaming mess. God loves you when you're resting alongside still waters. God loves you when you make the biggest mistakes of your life. God's loves isn't based on your behavior...it is rooted in His character…it's settled on what Jesus did on the cross. God loves you even when you don't feel lovely.
Larry Crabb was a Christian counselor and Bible teacher. Here's what he wrote about who we are in Christ:
We are not our problems. We are not our wounds. We are not our sins. We are persons of radical worth and unrevealed beauty. If we face ourselves fully, we will be broken by what we see, by the selfishness and fear and rage and lust that cover our spiritual beauty like tarnish on silver. But the silver is there. Something brilliant and intact gleams through the stain of our brokenness.
That is the work of the cross. It enables you to be honest about who you are because you no longer fear the consequences of what had been ugly about your life before Christ. Reject a worldview that says you will always be ugly. And reject worldview that says you were never ugly. Embrace the Savior who died on the cross for you.
BEWARE OF BECOMING A CONFORMIST.
What is a conformist? A conformist wants to please others as much as or
even more than God. The conformist is really concerned about what people think about him or her. The conformist forgets about God. As one woman observes, "Being overly concerned about what other people think about you is a form of idolatry. Worry about what God thinks of you."
One of the most dangerous lies driving conformity is that I must have other people's approval in order to be happy. A lot of people think that without thinking they think that. I've got to be liked. What if people don't approve of how I dress or how I look or how I talk or what I do or what I like? The list goes on. How can I be happy when people don't like me or agree with me? Some people tailor how they present themselves based on what they think others need or want them to be. People do that all the time. They're one way with this person, and they're a totally or slightly different way with this other person, because they think that's what it takes to be liked.
There's this lovely post by John Mason:
"We make the Christian life complicated, complex and convoluted because of our willingness to conform to the culture, instead of countering and contending with God's biblical standard of truth."
That's exactly what the Galatians were doing. Conformity is so sinister. It can drive us away from the truth of God's Word. It can lead us to crave acceptance more than honoring God and His Word. Conformity can steal your joy.
Here's what Paul says about conformity:
You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This
persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump.
- Galatians 5:7-9
In other words, don't let anyone cut in on you. Don't listen to the crowd. Why do you care about what they think? Your focus is on the cross…it's on the gospel…your eyes need to be on Jesus.
My family is not going to like hearing this, but a couple of weeks ago, about 7 in the morning, I was driving down the boulevard. I was in the left lane traveling east. I noticed something in someone's yard and looked at it a bit too long. My front tire bumped up against the curb on the median strip. Idiot.
Paul says that can happen in your Christian life if you're not paying
attention. You can get tripped up. You lose your freedom and you lose your joy. You lose the excitement of the Christian life. You're paying too much attention to what other people think or are doing. Paul says to the Galatians, what happened to you? You were doing so well. You were growing in Christ. And now you're chasing after the latest trend or idea, like all the other sheeple.
They started looking at other people. They cared about the opinions of others. They took their eyes off of what Jesus Christ did on the cross and instead conformed to others. That is never a good thing.
When we begin comparing ourselves to others, we get in trouble. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 10:12, "Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding." Hear that, whenever you find yourself tempted to conform to the opinions of others. God's Word says it is dumb to care about what other people think about you. The only opinion that really matters is God's, and He showed you what He thinks
about you when Jesus Christ died on the cross.
Here's one last thing you might want to write down:
BE CONTENT IN THE CROSS.
Be content with who God made you to be. Here's how Paul puts it in Galatians 6:4:
But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load.
God made you to be you. Whatever you're doing, ask, "Was this effective? Was this meaningful? Was this helpful? Did I reflect Christ in this?" Instead of conforming yourself to others, focus instead on who God has called you to be.
Think of it this way. Even in the bad times of your life, God knew about them. Even the problems you're going through now, God knows. He's either preparing you for them or He's prepared them for you. In everything that happens to you and in your life, who else is going to be you if not you? The problem is, we spend so much of our time trying to be like others that we lose what is unique about how God created us to be. The trap of conformity causes us to lose sight of who God created us to be. And that conformity steals our joy.
But when we kneel at the foot of the cross, sin and all, we are who we are, sinners forgiven by God. What's more real than that?
"So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." Don't give that freedom over to anybody. Let go of the need for perfectionism. Resist the need to conform to others. Leave those things at the foot of the cross. Jesus Christ died so you could be freed from sin and death. In the end, that's what matters most.
SOLI DEO GLORIA…
To the Glory of God Alone!