TEXT : Galatians 3:1- 9
TITLE: How Legalism easily usurps the gospel
Date : 20 /11 /2011
We know that our physical bodies are subject to various diseases and attacks upon our immune systems . This past week a girl at our children’s school was diagnosed with leukaemia . This past week I also spoke to a man in a supermarket who told me that he has been diagnosed with cancer .
What is true of the body is also true of the spirit. All of us are spiritually fallen people ( Genesis 3) . In God’s eyes this amounts to ‘spiritual deadness‘ ( e.g. Eph 2:1), and the outworking of this upon us , physically , emotionally and spiritually, is of a many and varied nature. Many people on the face of this earth are demon possessed, as they were also in Jesus’ day . Many are enslaved by addictions (drugs , alcohol , pornography) which often cause their early death . Many live their lives in a completely unbalanced manner e.g. trough compulsive behaviour such as eating disorders ( obesity or anorexia / bulimia) kleptomania , compulsive lying , gambling, work-aholism . Many are therefore subjected to mental illnesses and depressions and anxieties .
All these things are essentially spiritual problems and they all take their toll upon our bodies and this is ultimately the reason why we will all die . Our bodies take a beating in the cause of life and we truly see that the wages of sin is death ( Rom 6:23) and not one escapes this .
Thankfully , in Christ, we are restored in soul / spirit and eventually at the resurrection we shall also be restored in our bodies . In heaven (our final and eternal state) we will enjoy that perfect state in a spiritually pure environment in which also our new bodies will never die again.
In the meantime we must trust Christ and His Word to keep us focused on these eternal realities. The Bible helps us to see that life in this fallen world is a battlefield. There is an enemy, Satan. He uses all possible means at his disposal to get us down. He knows us well. He knows our weaknesses and sometimes He attacks Christians directly . There are many countries where Christians suffer such direct attacks . At other times he uses subtler forms of attacks in the form of trickery and deceit, often masking himself as an angel of the light ( 2 Cor 11:14) – a wolf in sheep’s clothing ( Matt 7:15) . He knows theology , and he has studied the art of subtly changing the message of the Christian faith, handing it back to us in twisted form. The right words are all there, but the primary truth has now become subject to secondary forms of truth.
Let me explain this with the help of an actual situation sketched for us in Galatians 3: 1- 9 .
In this letter we find one of the most vicious diseases that attack our spiritual immunity system : Legalism !
A note on the letter to the Galatians:
Paul wrote this letter to the Galatians because he had seen that they had allowed their hearts, which at one time had yielded to Christ, only to be led astray by what he calls “a different gospel - not that there is another one “. This has happened through “ some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.” (Gal 1:6,7)
What was this different gospel , which was no gospel ?
Follow Paul through his argument in Galatians 3 : 1- 9
[3:1] O foolish ( Gr aneotoi lit. senseless) Galatians! Who has bewitched you? JB Philips translates: "Oh, you dear idiots of Galatia… surely you can’t be so idiotic ?" Paul is clearly annoyed ! What they were doing was so senseless. It almost seemed as if some sorcerer had cast a spell over ( bewitched) them . Those who had ‘bewitched’ them were the so called ‘Judaizers’ - people in those days , who in addition to acknowledging the fact that Christ had come in the flesh were also insisting that the keeping of the law and circumcision were necessary for salvation. This amounted to a “Christ –plus“ situation ; a deadly compromise of the gospel, in which the gospel was lost and where the law and circumcision rite won the day ! The gospel (Christ) was being replaced by the law.
Don’t get this wrong! The problem is not with the law . The law is holy ( Rom 7:12) and spiritual ( Rom 7:14) , the law is good ( Rom 7:16) because it is of God. However, the law is no way to justify you before God . On the contrary, it constantly accuses you because the law is perfect and you are not . So in terms of obtaining a right standing before God, the law can never help you. It can , as we have seen, only make us more guilty. So it is foolish to want to tie people up with the law. We must look further than the law. The Bible says that (at) the end of the law is Christ ( Rom 10:4).
So, these Judaizers under Satan’s influence subtly indicate to the Galatian believers that their simple faith in Christ is not enough. They needed to add the law and circumcision . By adding this ‘tail’ to Christ, Christ becomes in reality obscured, and the law becomes once again greater than Christ, and the result is therefore that the gospel becomes ‘ no gospel’. This was simply the way of the Pharisees among the Jews resurrected and reintroduced in the life of the Gentile - Christian church .
Paul responds !
“It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified .” Jesus Christ is the gospel . Period ! Now see how Paul challenges them :
 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?  Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain?  Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith—
Paul had come to Galatia to preach the gospel to them. He had publicly portrayed before their eyes the person of Jesus Christ ( The Saviour from heaven) and the work of of the Lord Jesus ( Christ crucified).
They had heard the gospel! With the eye of faith they had seen Christ crucified on the cross for them ! They had believed in Christ , and so they had also received the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit in us testifies to Christ.
Please note ! They had not believed by becoming circumcised; they had not pledged allegiance to the law. They had only believed in Jesus Christ, and on this confession of their faith they were justified by God and they were baptized by the Holy Spirit into Christ (1 Cor 12:13 – baptized by one Spirit into one body - this does not refer to water baptism)
This being the facts of their experience, Paul argues that it is silly, that having begun with the Spirit, they would now aim to perfect that experience by returning to the flesh (by the human keeping of the law)! In this case this wonderful experience, this Spirit induced conversion which came by a pure faith in Christ alone , would be of no purpose.
Now Paul in typical fashion musters all his guns to drive this point home. It was a masterstroke . These Judaizers (or legalists) looked to Moses as their teacher. So Paul went a few centuries ahead from Moses and reminded them that the father of faith was in fact Abraham .
 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?
 Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.  And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.”  So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
Here’s an interesting question : How or on what basis was Abraham justified before God? Let me remind you that at that time there was as yet no law and no sign of circumcision. To be precise, the law came only 430 years later ( Gal 3:17) Abraham simply believed the God who had spoken to him and this fact ( and nothing else) was credited to him as righteousness . He was the father of all who would believe – from all nations of the world . All this , says Paul , the Galatians should have known . They should never have fallen under the spell of these false teachers . If only they had kept Christ crucified ( i.e. Christ and His work) before their eyes , this would not have happened .
The spiritual disease that had attacked the thinking and the faith of the Galatians was this wretched substitute for the gospel , called legalism . Now we must be concerned about this, because it is the easiest trap to fall into, and to be honest , all of us have fallen into it at various times, and perhaps we are still there.
In conclusion let us consider how we may watch out for the insidious tentacles of this phenomenon and how we may keep ourselves in the love of Christ.
I will do this by giving you an ordinary example . John and Jill have just become Christians . They are exited about the Lord and they have the first love glow about them. They obviously have yet a lot to learn about the Christian faith. And if they have just joined an ordinary busy evangelical church where so many things are happening, and where there are so many well meaning people wanting them to get involved in so many good things. They are excited to learn about prayer, and they are fired up by the recent conference on evangelism, they are into a bible reading program, and a home fellowship , the music group, the diaconal ministry teams etc . One by one they add more and more spiritual activities to their portfolio. All these activities are good ; some are vital AND YET without realizing it there is a dangerous shift taking place in their mind and hearts . What God had intended to be a means of experiencing grace , becomes within them a means to earn “spiritual brownie points “ .
By and by their love and thankfulness for Christ Himself is replaced by commitment to activity. But there is something else happening in their heart. They now begin to look at the Christian faith through the eyes of their performances and activities . The shift is plainly seen on Sundays . On one Sunday they participate in worship with zeal and sincerity, and they feel good about having been at church. Now something happens during the week . There are activities that they cannot participate in for one or the other reason . John or Jill have also not been able to have good , consistent Bible reading times and because of that they feel that God disapproves of them , and the next Sunday in church they are disappointed in themselves. Worship feels ‘flat as a pancake’ .
What is happening here ? Their confidence is no longer in the gospel. It is in their performance which hasn’t been so great lately . The joylessness of legalism !
The answer : Let the Gospel be your center
Just in case you are wondering whether breaking free from legalism means that you must stop reading the Bible and that you should not go to the prayer meeting or evangelism outreach on Saturday etc . No, it doesn’t mean that all , and neglecting these things may mean that you fall into another trap of the devil .You may now become spiritually lazy by not using the spiritual gifts that God desires you to employ for His glory and for the building up of the church.
You must get your thinking about the gospel right !
Remember the basis of your salvation ! When you first put your faith in Jesus , God justifies you and forgives you all your sin and gives you the righteousness of His Son. Thereafter He continues to work in you. That work is called sanctification. Sanctification is the process of making you more like Jesus , and this process will not end in this life until Jesus comes or when you meet Him at death. Both works are God’s works . God works in you to will and to do His good work (Phil 2:12,13) . You respond to the work of the Holy Spirit in you . That is a typical sign of the new birth . You fight sin ; you flee temptation; you pursue holiness ; you work in the kingdom. However you must NEVER be tempted to think that your performance in all this will contribute to your justification. Not one of these good spiritual activities will make you more saved and more loved by God . You are always accepted by virtue of Christ’s finished work on the cross alone !
The point is this : Do everything out of a true love and appreciation for God Worship is your core business , not works . Works follow worship. Keep Christ (His person) and the cross (His work) central , and remain thankful .
And because of this ( and not for a legalistic reason) you would never ever again want to miss worship on Sunday . This is because you love Him, and you want to be with Him , and you want to be with those whom He loves ! Amen