July 11, 2019

The Last Idol Removed from Our Heart

Galatians 2:1-10 – Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. 2 I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain. 3 But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. 4 Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery— 5 to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. 6 And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me. 7 On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised 8 (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), 9 and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10 Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.

Go into any Christian bookstore – or even our own Schedler Resource Center below Trinity’s sanctuary – and you’ll find plaques and pictures accompanied by various familiar Scripture passages.  But chances are you will never find one using Galatians 2:3 – “But even Titus was not forced to be circumcised.”  And yet there should be one – because it’s so vitally significant.  What makes it so?  It’s at the heart of what Paul is hammering away at in the book of Galatians and in particularly in this chapter:  The essence of Christian liberty.

Paul is telling us that doctrine is paramount to the life of a Christian, and without it, there really is no Christianity.  In our culture, people tend to want spirituality without theology.  We want intimacy with God without bringing our mind and life to him.  For example, it has now become a given in our culture to believe we can have sexual intimacy with someone apart from giving our entire life to that person.  How far we have distanced ourselves from the attitude of Ruth when she says, “May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”

Now relate this attitude to our quest for spirituality.  “I want intimacy with God, but I certainly don’t want to change my way of life, or accept the authority of the Scriptures, with all those unenlightened things, putting God at the center of my life.  I want God…I want prayer…I want to somehow connect with him…but on my terms.

C.S. Lewis defines doctrine as a map, and Tim Keller provides an analogy of this that is very helpful to us in understanding the vital importance of doctrine to Christianity.  You have a map of Scotland laid out before you, but the map itself is not Scotland.  Pardon my simplicity here, but if you stand on the map of Scotland while eating a hot dog, it would be foolish to say you’re eating a hot dog in Scotland.  But if you’ve never been to Scotland, you’d be lost without the map. 

What’s the point?  Christianity’s map of doctrine shows me that: a) I am a sinner; and b) God has provided redemption from my sin through His Son Jesus Christ.  If I don’t submit to that doctrinal map, I’ll never get there.

And what Paul is stressing in Galatians 2 is this essential doctrine:  You are accepted through Jesus Christ PLUS NOTHING.  There were present among the Galatians men whom Paul referred to as false brothers.  These people were poisoning the true doctrine of Christianity by teaching the necessity of faith in Jesus PLUS a strict adherence to the ceremonial laws of Judaism, such as dietary restrictions, wearing certain fabrics, and most of all…circumcision. 

And while the issue of ceremonial laws and circumcision may not be a deceiving addition to the doctrine of FAITH ALONE for us in 21st century America, there are plenty of substitutes.  George Whitfield was an 18th century English pastor and evangelist who once said:

Before you can speak peace to your heart you must not only be sick of your original and actual sin, but you must be made sick of your righteousness, of all your duties and performances. There must be a deep conviction before you can be brought out of your self-righteousness; it is the last idol taken out of our heart. The pride of our heart will not let us submit to the righteousness of Jesus Christ. But if you never felt that you had no righteousness of your own, if you never felt the deficiency of your own righteousness, you cannot come to Jesus Christ.

It’s one thing to repent of our sins, but it’s another to repent of the very reason you did anything right in the first place. Repent of our righteousness?  Yes!  Whitfield is suggesting that there remains in us, however subtly, an inner attempt with our righteous deeds to live independently from God.  Remember:  Faith in Jesus PLUS ANYTHING leads to spiritual bondage and is not Christianity.

Point #1: The Primary Purpose of God’s Law Isn’t to Change Your Behavior

On the surface, this statement sounds absurd.  But remember back to our study of Romans?  In Romans 7:7, Paul makes the statement, “Now the law came in to increase the trespass…”  I remember really struggling over this until Pastor Carl helped lay it out for me.  The key comes in the second half of the verse:  but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more. so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.…”  It’s almost like saying, “I never knew I had a disease until I began to experience the symptoms.”  A person whose cancer is discovered early enough to be eradicated is grateful for the screening which reveals it.  So, the primary purpose of the law (and in the context for this study of Galatians 2:1-10) is to reveal to ourselves that we are incapable of any level of righteousness on our own.  The law exists to drive us to our knees in full recognition that we need a Savior.

Point #2: Recognize the False Brother Nature in Yourself

It’s so easy to look back with condemnation at those in the first century church who insisted in circumcision for Gentiles in addition to faith in Christ.  Certainly, we wouldn’t add such things!  But as I examine myself, I recognize that my Christianity is often defined as

  • Christ AND…I’m trying my best;
  • Christ AND…my giving pattern;
  • Christ AND…my church attendance.

And do I look to Christ alone for my ultimate happiness, or is it

  • Christ AND…financial security;
  • Christ AND…a happy home life;
  • Christ AND…health and prosperity of my children

With my mouth I say, “Christ alone!”  But in my heart, it’s often something else added.  Anything I add to Christ for my ultimate peace will result in slavery to that thing that steals my joy and has the lethal potentially to make me cynical about God and his love for me.  Why?  Because I have to have it.  Father, forgive me for my “Christ AND’s…”!

Point #3: Honor the Purpose of the Law

In my explorations of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, I’m often driven to Ephesians 2:10 – for we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God has prepared in advance for us to do.  I use this verse to encourage others to keep eyes and ears open to what God is laying out before us each day to see the opportunities to DO GOOD THINGS for others.  So am I speaking out of both sides of my mouth when I say that we need seek opportunities to do good for others while also saying we need to repent of our righteousness?  I hope you see the difference.  If not, it’s easy to see how someone might simply freeze in his steps, not wanting to be guilty of doing good for the wrong reason.  But then by failing to do anything, you’d be committing a sin of omission by failing to act at all.  You can see how this could quickly spiral out of control in the heart and mind of someone wanting to be an obedient disciple of Christ.

This is where Luther’s quote about sinning boldly is very helpful.  Here’s an English translation of his quote in context:

“God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong [or sin boldly], but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides. We, however, says Peter (2. Peter 3:13) are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth where justice will reign. It suffices that through God’s glory we have recognized the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. No sin can separate us from Him, even if we were to kill or commit adultery thousands of times each day. Do you think such an exalted Lamb paid merely a small price with a meager sacrifice for our sins? Pray hard for you are quite a sinner.”

It’s inescapable that our righteous acts will be co-mingled with the sinfulness of our condition, but Christ has redeemed our sinful condition, and has therefore redeemed our sin-tainted righteous actions, making them all pleasing in his sight.  So, proceed in redeemed confidence!

Questions to Ponder:

  • What are your “Christ AND’s…”?
  • What cultural values do you put on others to meet your requirement of Christianity?  (Clothing, music, politics, etc.)
  • How does the doctrine of Christ PLUS NOTHING provide you with a true sense of Christian liberty?

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