Doing good can destroy the purpose of grace
- Micah 6:6-8
- Galatians 3:1-23
My dear brothers and sisters,
A dear friend of ours told me about a neighbour, and old man, sick and preparing himself for his last days. He asked my friend to visit him because he wanted to discuss things thing with. The two of them sat on the back verandah enjoying a coffee. Pointing with his walking stick to a clump of hard African torn bushes, right in the midst of an outcrop of rocks, the old man said to my friend, “That’s where I want to be buried.”
Trying to be diplomatic and gentle, my friend replied, “It’s going to be hard to dig a grave there seeing that it is rocky.”
The old fella turned towards him and calmly said, “I know. I worked it all out. If you look carefully, you will notice they will not get the hearse even close to it, too. They will have to carry me for a good hundred yards.”
“Yes, that was something else I thought I’d point out,” my friend observed.
“That’s the whole point. I have only two sons. They are going to inherit the farm and everything else I have. I hardly see them since they went to university, so I figured they are not going to get everything for nothing; they are going to work for it!”
Surely, they were going to work hard for their gift.
When Paul, the good man who did everything right, discovered that his self-righteousness was an offense to the cross of Christ, God showed him mercy. God did so not because he led a good life; God did so because his justice is just.
God’s justice is just, because it is met by the righteousness of his Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. He paid the complete price to save sinner. He came into this world to save sinners. That was his mission; and that mission He accomplished. Not one sinner, predestined from all eternity in Him, will be lost on the day of the return of Christ when He will bring to the Father all who was ordained to be saved.
We learn from the Scriptures that we are saved by grace, not by good works. Our righteousness before God is not what we achieved by good works in order to be saved, but what Christ purchased for us.
Galatians – fall from grace
Not long after Paul planted the church in Galatia, false preachers, mainly those with a Jewish background, introduced a different Gospel to the congregation. Yes, they probably preached a Gospel of salvation by grace, but they added the ceremonial law to it, and more specifically, the circumcision. In other words, they preached in order to be a good Christian you must be a good Jew first.
The Galatian church was swept away from grace. Paul begins his letter with these words:
I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. (Galatians 1:6-7)
The Gospel message of the Bile is grace and grace alone. GracePlus, Paul says, is a different Gospel – and a different Gospel is no Gospel at all: it is a perversion of the Gospel.
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. (Galatians 1:6–7, NIV)
The true Gospel of grace
For the truth of this gospel of grace and grace alone, which is not a righteousness through works of the ceremonial law of the Old Testament, Paul also opposed Peter when Peter for a moment was timid in living out this gospel of grace alone.
When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs? (Galatians 2:14, NIV)
The argument which follows in chapter three is exactly to demonstrate that Jesus Christ was an end to the ceremonial law. Further, Christ’s obedience to death was also the righteousness which we can never achieve, but which is ours by faith in Christ. When He became the accursed who hanged on the tree, He not only took our transgressions upon Him to deal with our sins once and for all, but He also fulfilled the law to the finest of detail to became our righteousness before God.
By faith in Him we become children of the promise, children of grace, children of the covenant. Because in Christ the promises to Abraham the he would be a blessing to all nations was fulfilled. Paul writes:
The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the nations will be blessed in you.” So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer. (Galatians 3:8-9)
Paul then goes out of his way to demonstrate the fact that salvation is by faith and not by works. The promise made to Abraham was made long before the law was given. Abraham received the promises and believed it, and it was accredited to him as righteousness because he trusted and believed God.
For if the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise. (Galatians 3:18)
The point in the Gospel of grace is this: God gives it freely; one does not deserve it. One cannot work it out by being good, and one cannot miss out on it because one is sinful. The purpose of the Law was to not help us along in being good and working out our righteousness. The purpose of the Law was:
… to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. (Galatians 3:24-25)
And if we don’t understand this clearly and try do still work out our own righteousness we are like that those boys digging between the rocks and carrying the coffin of their father all the way there to get their inheritance. The Good News is this:
God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons… Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God. (Galatians 4:4-7)
The good works of the slave
The Galatians fell for what seemed so good sounding. It looked so good on the surface. Do these things, and be good and you will be saved.
O, this is the Gospel so many people hear and want to hear. But Paul is clear about such a Gospel. He says:
But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? You observe days and months and seasons and years. (Galatians 4:9-10)
Yes, there are those who live in fear of God’s judgement because they just want to comply with the law – and what will happen if the return of Christ catches the on the wrong moment! Such people are slaves. They are children of the first principles of this world as we see it in Israel before the cross of Christ. It remains a DIY religion to gain a self-righteousness before God. For such there is no peace, for even the best of these may need to spend some time in purgatory to gain the perfect righteousness. What pitiful Gospel!
Good works of the son
But there is the Gospel speaking of sons. Paul uses an allegory in speaking of the two women, Hagar and Sarah. Hagar produces an offspring of slaves who by own effort want to attain their own righteousness. But, he says:
Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be an heir with the son of the free woman. So then, brethren, we are not children of a bondwoman, but of the free woman. (Galatians 4:30-31)
Children born of the free woman live lives driven and controlled by the Spirit. He says:
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. (Galatians 5:16)
What does it mean to walk by the Spirit? Of course, Jesus Himself said that the Spirit will come to teach us all things concerning Christ. Christ set us free from sin, but this freedom is not a freedom to do as we wish, because there is a war raging in our minds. What is this war about?
For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. (Galatians 5:17)
The fruit of the Spirit is:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23)
Now the good works of the son, as opposed to the good works of the slave (or the good works of the person who is not saved by grace), and who is still trying to achieve an own righteousness, as opposed by the person who found salvation in Christ is defined. And my dear brother and sister, listen carefully here, because this is extremely important: the good works of the sons is what follows faith in Christ Jesus. Listen to this verse:
Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:24-25)
When did they crucify the flesh? Important! When by faith they believed that Christ died for them. By faith they are united with Him. His death became their death; His resurrection became their resurrection; His new life by faith became their new life. That’s why they were given the Spirit of God. Paul writes about this reality when he says:
I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. (Galatians 2:20)
Now, this crucifying of the flesh is an ongoing process too – sanctification:
But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 6:14)
It has expression in the way we live to fulfil the law of love. Paul writes:
For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:14)
The good deeds of the law, as we who are free in Christ, should live it out is to love God and our neighbour. Galatians 6 spells it out.
Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2)
It talks about humility:
For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. For each one will bear his own load. (Galatians 6:3-5)
We cannot see good works as an option; it is the essence of our Christian life.
Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. (Galatians 6:9)
It should be seen in our actions towards one another as Christians, but also towards those who still not believe:
So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith. (Galatians 6:10)
Did the old fellow really love his sons to make them work for their inheritance? No! Did the sons really love their father to dig his grave and carry him to his last resting place? No! If the father loved the sons, he would have given them the inheritance as a gift; if the sons loved their father, they would buried him regardless if there was an inheritance or not. Fact is, true fathers and true sons love one another long before any one needs to be buried!
But our heavenly Father loved us by giving us his only Son. The good news is we don’t need to dig his grave – He doesn’t need one: He conquered death in our place, to give us salvation as a gift.
What really counts?
For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. (Galatians 6:15)
And this new creation, my brother and sister, is what we receive by the grace of God by faith in Christ alone. And it calls us to good works in His Name. AMEN.
Sermon preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 9 March 2014