Monday, November 21, 2011

How Legalism so very easily displaces the Gospel

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 [1].”  Jesus  Christ   is the gospel .  Period !   Now see how Paul challenges them  :
[2] Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? [3] Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? [4] Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? [5] 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 12:13baptized 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 .
[6] just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?
[7] Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. [8] 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.” [9] 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

[1]  Gr . estaurōmenos :  perfect tense of the participle : the force of this is  that Christ’s work was completed on the cross , and the benefits of His crucifixion are  ongoing and available

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