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Liberated from Legalism - pt 9 [6-27-21]

These final verses of chapter 2 are dense. I find it sometimes difficult to wrap my thick, boxy brain around these kinds of passages. But let's give it a go.

The place to start is with sin. That's always a fun place to start, right? Specifically, there's two concepts of sin hovering over these five verses.

First, there's the aspect of sin Paul grew up with that related to Gentiles. Because Gentiles did not know the law and did not follow the law, with its rituals and vast array of what to do and what not to do, they were stuck in a position of sin from which the only escape was to follow the law. That was how the Pharisees interpreted God's Word and God's Law. Gentiles were sinners because they did not keep the law.

Here's a passage to keep in mind as we develop these two understandings

of sin. It's a parable told by Jesus. As we move through Galatians 2:17-21, you're going to recognize this parable as foundational to what Paul is saying:

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

- Luke 18:9-14

Out of that grew the charge from the false teachers. The false teachers

made the leap that if Paul and Peter were no longer following the law, then they were living like Gentile sinners. Hence their conclusion that believing we are justified by faith alone caused them to sin in the name of Christ. It made sense to the false teachers, but it doesn't make much sense to us. Gentiles, who did not follow the law, were automatically sinners. And now, Jews like Peter and Paul, who once followed the law but now celebrate their freedom in Christ, have inserted themselves back in the category of sinners. It makes sense if your ego drives you to think you only get what you work for.

Like I said, it doesn't make much sense. And that was exactly what Paul was pointing out. If I have received forgiveness of my sins through the cross of Jesus Christ…justification…then I no longer have to adhere to the laws and rituals of the Jewish tradition. But if I no longer adhere to the laws and rituals of the Jewish tradition, then, according to the false teachers, I am like Gentile sinners. And if I am like Gentile sinners, then I am not worthy before God. And if I am not worthy before God, even though I put my trust in what Jesus Christ did on the cross, then the cross is meaningless. So you can see the problem.

Paul is pointing to the idiocy of it all.

One concept of sin underneath these verses was the notion that Gentiles could only get right with God by obedience to laws and rituals spelled out by Jewish legalism. The law was the way of getting right with God.

Yet Paul was writing out of a deeper understanding of sin and its remedy.

For Paul, spelled out in most of his letters and found throughout the Old Testament, sin is something deeply imbedded and ingrained in human nature. We all sin. All people sin all the time. The things we call sin are symptoms of our sinful nature. Striving to obey the correct rituals and practices, and avoiding those things described as sin, will never remove our sin nature. We are never free of it.

That's a concept lots of people have a hard time with. Even people in the church. Apart from Christ, we are condemned by our sin nature. Apart from Christ, there is nothing good in us or about us. I love how Voddie Baucham puts it {it's something you might want to write down}:


That captures our struggle with sin.

How often do we downplay or ignore the damning eternal consequences of sin? We want to think that most people are basically good, and a loving, gracious God will welcome all basically good people into heaven when they die. Have a conversation with the people you know about sin and human nature and heaven and hell, and listen to what they say. Not only will you be the life of the party, but you'll also get a good sense of where people are.

There's a smiling preacher down in Texas who says that 99.9% of people are basically good people who sometimes do bad things. That's a loophole that's nowhere in Scripture.

And it's not just a problem with smiling preachers down in Texas. Do you know what it's like, as a pastor, to be asked to conduct a funeral service for someone who wasn't a devoted follower of Jesus Christ? It's tough; when you understand the full weight of sin, and then have to address an

unrepentant life at a time of deepest grief.

But here's what we pastors do. At funerals we stand up and say that

people who never wanted to be with God on this earth are in a better place now. Think it through. We say people who never wanted to be with God are now spending eternity with the One they didn't want to be with here. We totally ignore the unrepentant sinner and the separation with God their sin created.

As Voddie Baucham says, too many people don't think they need to be saved. They just think they need to be helped. We don't think we need Good News. We think we need good advice. Sometimes I've acted more like the Therapist in the Pulpit. That's what we're up against. And that's what Paul was up against.

I read about a new movie coming out in September. It's about Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker and the collapse of their televangelist empire. Actress Jessica Chastain produces and plays Tammy Faye Bakker. Here's what she said about the title role:

"I've never been baptized. I didn't grow up within a church, but I do

believe in unconditional love. We are all part of this world, part of humanity and part of grace. No matter where you come from, you are perfect, and you are fully and unconditionally loved. And that's what I hope people leave the theater knowing."

That is an unexamined statement and belief. There's so much it doesn't take into consideration, greatest of which is human sin and our alienation from our Creator.

But is it any worse than what Paul was facing with the false teachers? They could not break free from the notion of sin as something you conquer by doing the right works and rituals. They had no grasp of sin as cosmic treason against God on such a grand scale that it took the death of God's Son on the cross to free us from it's damning consequence.

Here's something else you might want to write down:

In Christ the law has been destroyed as a way of getting right with God.

The law had to be destroyed because it had been misused. People had

been abused through the law. People, specifically the lawyers and the Pharisees, had taken the law and added to it and made it a burden rather than a blessing. And the false teachers wanted to rebuild the law, but with a Christian veneer. That was not a good thing.

Here's a good way to look at what was positive about the law {before Jesus} and how it had been corrupted.

Here's a workable analogy I read about the law. This is the positive. God gave the law as a railroad track to guide Israel's obedience. The engine pulling a person down the track was God's grace, powered by the Holy Spirit. And the coupling between our car and the engine was faith, which was a gift from God. So, the Old Testament, like the New Testament, projected the truth that salvation was by grace, through faith, along the track of obedience. This obedience is what we call sanctification, as we are made holy in order to serve and glorify God.

Are you with me so far?

Here's where the law got corrupted. That railroad track served a positive

purpose. But, human ego being what it is, people thought it would be

better to contribute to their own salvation. We have to be in charge, right? So the scholars and teachers and lawyers did an amazing thing. They took the railroad track, lifted vertical, and turned it into a ladder on which you could climb up to heaven. That is legalism. Your effort. Climbing a ladder. Making the law into a series of steps which are used to gauge our moral fitness for heaven. And the best thing about climbing the ladder is you get to look down on the people who are rungs beneath you. {Remember Luke 18.} The biggest downside is even one missing rung stops your progress.

Paul tore down that ladder. He did away with the legalistic misuse of the law. As he said in verse 18, "For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor." In other words, if we add anything to the grace and mercy of the cross of Jesus Christ, we are saying that you have to demonstrate your moral fitness for salvation. The cross is declared null-and-void when you presume you can climb your way up a ladder of morality into God's favor. So Paul said that ladder needed to remain torn down.

Here's a closing reminder of why Paul was so aggressive about rejecting

works of the law. It's from Paul Washer:

"You ask me 'What's the greatest act of faith?' To me it is to look in the mirror of God's Word, and see all my faults, all my sin, all my shortcomings, and to believe that God loves me exactly as He says He does."


To the Glory of God Alone!

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