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Liberated from Legalism - pt 12 [7-18-21]

Have you ever received an inheritance? Back in the 60s, I remember my mom talking about a widowed aunt who had no children. She owned a sizeable amount of early shares of Pepsi-Cola stock. Some of my mom's relatives were hoping for an inheritance. After my mom died, in 1977, we lost track of her side of the family and whatever happened to Aunt Clara. An inheritance can be a good thing.

The best part about an inheritance is you don't have to work for it or earn it. Heck, in some cases, people get an inheritance who don't even deserve it. In my mind, that's the best kind of inheritance. I could think of all kinds of reasons why I wouldn't deserve an inheritance, but there it is. Are you with me on this? The worst kind of person is the one who gets mad because they didn't get the inheritance they thought they had coming.

Here's what Paul says in Ephesians 1:11-14:

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

Galatians 3:10-14 is about exactly how we come by our Christian inheritance.

Let's start with the Old Testament. Specifically, the Book of Deuteronomy:

Then Moses and the Levitical priests said to all Israel, “Keep silence and hear, O Israel: this day you have become the people of the Lord your God. You shall therefore obey the voice of the Lord your God, keeping his commandments and his statutes, which I command you today.”

That day Moses charged the people, saying, “When you have crossed over the Jordan, these shall stand on Mount Gerizim to bless the people: Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin. And these shall stand on Mount Ebal for the curse: Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali. And the Levites shall declare to all the men of Israel in a loud voice:

“‘Cursed be the man who makes a carved or cast metal image, an abomination to the Lord, a thing made by the hands of a craftsman, and sets it up in secret.’ And all the people shall answer and say, ‘Amen.’

“‘Cursed be anyone who dishonors his father or his mother.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

“‘Cursed be anyone who moves his neighbor's landmark.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

“‘Cursed be anyone who misleads a blind man on the road.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

“‘Cursed be anyone who perverts the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

“‘Cursed be anyone who lies with his father's wife, because he has uncovered his father's nakedness. ’And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

“‘Cursed be anyone who lies with any kind of animal.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

“‘Cursed be anyone who lies with his sister, whether the daughter of his

father or the daughter of his mother.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’“‘Cursed be anyone who lies with his mother-in-law.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

“‘Cursed be anyone who strikes down his neighbor in secret.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

“‘Cursed be anyone who takes a bribe to shed innocent blood.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

“‘Cursed be anyone who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

- Deuteronomy 27:9-26

Paul knew about these curses. He knew these passages. In fact, in 2 Corinthians, Paul reports that he had been whipped five times in the synagogue for false teaching. Five times. According to protocol, every time he was whipped, someone read these curses out loud. The whole point was to remember that following the law was the way to tell if you were in good standing with God. The law presents a list of do's and don'ts and as long as you are doing or "don'ting" then all is well. Keep being you.

Paul is warning against false assurances in verse 10. So, as I hear these curses, and if I'm not guilty of doing any of these things, then by nature I am right with God. I completely ignore everything the Bible says about my sinful nature. I think my good choices will help me shed that sinful nature. Years ago I had a conversation with an older woman who said that sin wasn't a problem in her life. She couldn't remember the last time she sinned. "Interesting" was all I could say. Fast forward to last week where a young Christian woman posted on Twitter that her family had cancelled their Netflix subscription. It was presented as a virtuous thing. Like a humble brag. The irony was that she posted it on Twitter.

But that's the problem Paul addresses in verse 10. We are always at risk of false assurances. We're tempted to think and feel that because we say the right words or make {what we believe to be} the virtuous choices or come to church regularly or pray at each meal or avoid blatant sins, we have earned God's blessing. Or it keeps us from falling out of God's grace. Or we are not under the curse for our sinful nature.

Here's the first point of danger identified by Paul. Every time Paul was

flogged for his supposed disobedience, he was reminded that as long as he

didn't do these things, then all was well. "You're not striking down your neighbor in secret? Then you're okay with God." And on and on. And we take that false sense of assurance and we run with it. I've cancelled Netflix, I'm a good person. I don't drink alcohol, I'm a good person. I put a "Hate doesn't Live Here" sign in my front yard, I'm a good person. I'm vegan, I'm a good person. I give generously to the church, I'm a good person. There's so much more. Now, there's nothing wrong with those things, in and of themselves. But Paul says that attitude becomes problematic when we think that's what makes us right with God…what draws us closer to God. I know the curses, and I ain't done none of them, so sin has got no hook in me.

There are people of great moral intensity who keep busy at justifying themselves in the eyes of God. Here's something you might want to write down. It is:

An exercise in self-reformation.

As we've talked about before, this is reflective of the fastest growing

worldview in America right now…Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. Do you

remember what that means? In a nutshell, here's a good way to

summarize Moralistic Therapeutic Deism:

  • Belief in a God who remains distant from people’s lives.

  • People are supposed to be good to each other (i.e., moral).

  • The universal purpose of life is being happy and feeling good about oneself.

  • There are no absolute moral truths.

  • God allows “good people” into Heaven.

Here's why so many people who self-identify as Christian hold to MTD. Here's a breakdown of recent polling numbers among this group:

  • Do not believe that people are sinful and need salvation through Jesus Christ (91%).

  • Trust sources other than the Bible for moral guidance (88%).

  • Contend that good people get to Heaven through good behavior (76%).

  • Do not believe that the Bible is true and reliable communication from God (71%).

That's why George Barna calls this "Fake Christianity." It's simply a current manifestation of what Paul was dealing with from false teachers.

And it doesn't stop with Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. Common among certain streams of evangelicalism is the "Sinner's Prayer" which includes some form of the petition, "Jesus, I make you Lord of my life." There's the related question, "Have you made Jesus Christ Lord of your life?" Here's what Voddie Baucham says about that:

If you make Jesus Lord of your life then that means you're Lord because you told your Lord what to do.

Minor point? I don't think so. It gets to the heart of who's in charge…who chooses who…what is earned and what is unearned.

Here's how this point is broken down in Galatians 3. There are two kinds of people. There are those who, having been broken by their sin, have a continuing reliance on the crucified Christ. The law crushes them as it reveals their sin and absolute inability to earn or deserve God's favor. Then there are those who propose a path of self-reformation through the moral choices they make. The one group glories in the cross of Christ by which they died to all but God. The other group believes in the powers and potentials of the self, thus diminishing the grace of God and the cross of Christ. One group sees that the purpose of the law is to show us how bad we really are. The other group sees the law as performance art designed to separate good people from bad people. As if by your own effort you could be one or the other.

Next week, we're going to pull three main points from verses 10-14. Simply put, they are:

1. Those who rely on works of the law are under a curse.

2. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law.

3. We have been justified through faith, which is a gift of the Spirit.

Until then, I leave you with this vignette from Garrison Keillor. It is about Larry Sorenson's annual Christmas visit to Lake Wobegon Lutheran Church:

“Larry the Sad Boy was there, who was saved twelve times in the Lutheran Church, an all-time record. Between 1953 and 1961, he threw himself weeping and contrite on God’s throne of grace on twelve separate occasions – and this in a Lutheran church that wasn’t evangelical, had no altar call, no organist playing ‘Just As I Am Without One Plea’ while a choir hummed and a guy with shiny hair took hold of your heartstrings and played you like a cheap guitar – this is the Lutheran Church, not a bunch of hillbillies these are Scandinavians, and they repent in the same way that they sin: discreetly, tastefully, at the proper time, and bring a Jell-O salad for afterward. Larry Sorenson came forward weeping buckets and crumpled up at the communion rail, to the amazement of the minister, who had delivered a dry sermon about stewardship, and who now had to put his arm around this limp, soggy individual and pray with him and see if he had a ride home. Twelve times. Even the fundamentalists got tired of him. Granted, we’re born in original sin and are worthless and vile, but twelve conversions are too many. God didn’t mean us to feel guilt all our lives. There comes a point when you should dry your tears and join the building committee and start grappling with the problems of the church furnace and the church roof and make church coffee and be of use, but Larry kept on repenting and repenting.”

Between the first time I read that, decades ago, and now, my thoughts

have shifted a wee bit. I think, perhaps, just maybe, Larry the Sad Boy was

closer to the truth than I realized.

Until next week -


To the Glory of God Alone!

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