Preached by Pastor Jason Abbott
It was either on Monday the 15th or Tuesday the 16th of October of 2001 when my brother-in-law, Charles, and I went to see U2 during the second leg of its Elevation Album World Tour. The band Garbage was the opening act those nights, and Chicago’s United Center was the venue. These are just a few of the details which I remember about my experience…after reading the Elevation Tour article on Wikipedia.
Yet, even though I needed Wiki to refresh my memory regarding the details of my concert experience, there’s a moment from that night I’ll likely never forget, a moment in which I gained a brand new respect for my brother-in-law, Charles. Here’s what happened.
The Elevation Tour was unique in that those people who bought G.A. tickets were allowed, when the doors opened, to run forward and get as close to the stage as possible. Since Charles and I were seminary students back then, we had plenty of time to wait in line and, thus, a great opportunity to rush first to the stage—which we did.
However, once you do all that work to get your prime position at the stage, you end up waiting what seems like an eternity for the concert to actually begin. So, what do you do? Well, you sit down on the floor and meet all your neighbors. We must’ve spent a couple hours in casual conversation with these guys and gals who shared a love of U2 with us.
Well, at some point during the conversation, someone asked us what we did. To this, we both responded that we were in graduate school studying theology. Very quickly (following our answer) a guy behind us took aim at our belief in God. He said something like: Belief in god has just been an excuse to enslave and kill throughout history.
I was caught off guard and didn’t know how to respond to his accusation. But, then, Charles graciously and precisely stepped in and responded in this way: Sadly, (he said) many have done horrible things in the name of God. That is true. Recently, however, the most brutal and widespread murder has been perpetrated by those with a godless worldview—Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot.
His answer was a knockout blow to the provocative attack we were under. I’ve never loved my bookish and geeky brother-in-law more than at that moment. He had saved us!
What made this quick response so potent and devastating to the assault was that it struck this guy’s ideology at the very point he was attempting to strike ours. In other words, the very grounds on which he was attacking theism and theists were the very grounds on which Charles incriminated his worldview and him.
And all I had to do is stand there and go: Yeah! like a true toady.
In today’s text, we’ll see that Paul is able (like my brother-in-law) to defeat those who have attacked the gospel by turning the very grounds of their attack against them. They have argued that Jesus plus their connection to Abraham, through things like circumcision and food laws, justify and save them before God. Paul, however, takes them right back to Abraham to show them that they have fundamentally misunderstood Abraham’s justification before God.
Let’s read this passage together then we’ll pray that God would teach us through our study of it this morning.
1 O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. 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— 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.
10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” 12 But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
As we reflect upon these verses, we’ll really be considering the difference between getting a do-over and getting a makeover. And, this is what Paul’s saying to the Galatians: You don’t want a do-over. You do want a makeover.
1. You don’t want a do-over (vv. 1-5, 10-12).
How many of you remember from your grade school days (that timeless playground rule): the do-over? It was the rule to employ when controversy arose. Say there was a dispute in a game of baseball on whether the ball was fair or foul, how do you settle the argument? A do-over! Say two of your mates are fighting about whether someone is out or not in foursquare, how do you reestablish peace? A do-over!
You simply reset the play. You go back and “do it over” again.
This is essentially what Paul is upset with the Galatians for doing here. Listen again to what he writes in the first 5 verses of our passage:
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? 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… (vv. 1-5)?
Paul is disappointed because the Galatians have allowed these false teachers to convince them to have a redo at justifying themselves before God by their works.
Essentially Paul is chiding the Galatians here for returning to the very thing which has not (in the past) and cannot (in the future) justify them at all before God. You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you into retrying that worthless game?! Don’t go in for a do-over!
Yet, time after time, we make the same mistake the Galatians made here. Time and time again, we’re bewitched into having a do-over at justifying ourselves before God by our performance.
Allow me to illustrate and apply this for a moment.
Last July, Christianity Today had a cover story with the title: 33 Under 33. Here’s an excerpt from the story explaining its purpose:
For this story, CT set out to find young believers who we think are leading today’s church in key ways—and who embody what it will look like in the years to come. We consulted ministry leaders, highly connected social media mavens, and millennials themselves to create the following list of 33 Christians 33 and younger to watch.1
The article especially caught Benjamin’s attention since he was 33 years old. Yet, his interest quickly turned to discouragement as he read profile after profile detailing church leaders (his age or younger) who were doing “extraordinary work” for God’s kingdom. As we talked about it, his discouragement became my dismay since I was 7 years older than the oldest person on that list.
- We’re so far behind the curve!
- Can we ever amount to anything?!
- We might as well just give up now and die!
Can you see what we were doing? Do you see how foolish we were being? Having begun by the Spirit, we were now measuring our perfection by the flesh—by our works!
It is just so easy to go for a do-over in this way
- Just get on Pinterest and evaluate your cooking or decorating.
- Just visit Facebook and measure yourself against your graduating class.
When we evaluate ourselves like this, we won’t end up justified but crushed. There will always be those who outperform us in most ways—if not every way! Yet, if that’s not bad enough, we’re not talking about measuring imperfection against imperfection, but our imperfection against God’s holy and perfect standard. This is why Paul warns the Galatians and us:
For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them [that is every single thing the law requires!] shall live by them.” (vv. 10-12).
Thus, Paul says: “no one is justified before God by the law” so don’t return to that! Don’t go for a do-over in that way!
Well, that’s what we don’t want, but what about the flipside of the coin? What do we want?
2. You do want a makeover (vv. 6-9, 13-14).
I’ve never watched Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, but I like its premise. Basically, the television show’s producers find families, who are in actual need, and completely makeover those families’ homes in ways they could never afford. Such makeovers are examples of receiving what you could not possibly earn. They’re expressions of grace.
It is a salvation like this which Paul argues the Galatians must turn back to. Look again at this passage with me:
Know…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 (vv. 7-9).
Then Paul again—as he closes this passage—argues along the same grace through faith lines:
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith (vv. 13-14).
Paul argues for the kind of total makeover we can only receive through faith in Jesus Christ. He’s arguing that even Abraham wasn’t justified by his works. (That was in essence what the false teachers among the Galatians were teaching.) He asserts, rather, that it was solely Abraham’s faith that brought him the blessing of justification before God; his faith (not his works!) justified him.
And this is equally the case for us today. Through our faith in Jesus Christ, God transforms us (or makes us over!) giving us Jesus’ perfect righteousness which we could never earn through our own works.
This is the true gospel. If you’ve been declared right through faith in Jesus, don’t ever go for a do-over at works righteousness. Don’t let anyone bewitch you with such foolishness.
God loves you in Christ Jesus. Nothing you can do can shake God’s love. Nothing you can do can earn God’s love. Instead, God the Father simply loves you because you are his child—his adopted son or daughter through faith!
This is the gospel. Nothing but faith in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, for you, will ever be able to justify you before a holy God. If you’re a nonbeliever then I beg you to stop playing at do-overs—another shot at getting it perfect!—because that’s a cruel game you cannot win. It only offers you a never ending cycle of slavery.
Instead, I would urge you to turn to Jesus in faith for real and true freedom. As Paul will later say in Galatians: No longer [be] a slave, but a [child of God], and if a [child of God], then an heir… (Galatians 4:7).
There’s an abundance of grace and love available for you in Jesus Christ. There’s a seat available for you at God’s family table. Please don’t hesitate to ask for your inheritance through faith in Jesus!