August 7, 2019

Cast Your Deadly “Doing” Down

Galatians 3:1-14

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.

Paul brings a scolding to the Galatian church that is reminiscent of what I’d get from my dad when I behaved in a way that was clearly a contradiction from the way I was raised.  I can still hear his voice…

“What were you thinking?! Have you lost your mind?!”

I knew he loved me, but I also knew I deserved those words of rebuke.  The Galatians deserved this rebuke, too.  Tim Keller suggests that the best translation of Paul’s “You foolish Galatians!” is “You beloved idiots!”  He’s angry with them while truly loving them.

As we’ve read from the previous two chapters in Galatians, Paul is addressing the matter of how one becomes justified by God.  But now he’s taking things a step further.  It’s not only a question of how one becomes righteous in God’s sight, but how one behaves righteously before God.  I know I’m saved.  I know that in God’s eyes I have the righteousness of Christ and he no longer sees my sin…he sees Christ’s righteousness.  But now the question is…how do I move from this point?  How do I move from “imputed” righteousness to “imparted” righteousness?  That is, how do I –  now that I’m accepted by Christ – live obediently for the right reasons?

In short, the answer is that we advance in the Christian faith in exactly the same way we were brought into the Christian faith – by believing in Jesus’ death and resurrection. 

Check out v. 2.  It was before your eyes that Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.  The Galatians originally were able to grasp, through Paul’s presentation of the gospel, the beauty of what was done for them on the cross.  This belief embodied their newfound life in Christ.  But then they slipped back into a way of living whereby they attempted to please God by relying on their outward behavior.  Let’s be clear.  Paul is not saying that Christians should not keep the law.  But it’s one thing to keep God’s law and quite another to RELY on it, to rest in it for righteousness. 

The Galatians had stopped resting in Christ and started resting in the law.  So Paul takes them back to Genesis 15:6 where it says that Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.  Notice Paul doesn’t say that Abraham believed IN God, but that he BELIEVED GOD.  Our faith is not defined by merely acknowledging God’s existence but believing that God is faithful and will do what he says he will do.  For Abraham, it meant believing in God’s promise to him “I am going to save the whole world through a descendant of yours.”  The word credited (KJV has “reckoned”) – is an accounting word which means “to count” or “to count as…”

Abraham was counted as righteous.  He didn’t gradually become righteous through the disciplines of daily obedience, taking two steps forward and taking one step back.  He was pronounced righteous. 

And this has everything to do with answering the question, “How do I behave as a disciple of Jesus?”  Often times, instead of resting in the atoning work of Jesus, we go back to trying really, really hard.  Paul says, no, your eyes are on the wrong thing, and so he refocuses our attention on something transendant – the cross.  It was before your eyes that Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.  He’s telling them (and us) that the power to live a life that is pleasing to God is found in revisiting time and again the cross of Calvary.  We are to believe that Jesus meant it when he said, “It is finished!”

We need to remember that our advancement in faith doesn’t come from trying harder.  It comes from BELIEVING the gospel.  When we do that, I believe we will begin to see our lives become an honest attempt to imitate the life of Jesus with the authentic motive of simply wanting to be like him instead of trying to keep him happy with us.

Point #1:

Do you, like me, ever find yourself thinking:

  • “I know I’m a Christian, and I know God forgives me, but I can’t forgive myself.”
  • “I know God forgives me, but I’m having trouble forgiving this person who has sinned against me.”
  • “I go to pieces when I hear criticism.”

In each case, there’s something else besides Jesus Christ that I’ve got to have in order for me to feel good about myself.  Whether it’s approval, power, or a sense of moral purity, it gets in the way of me seeing the beauty of the cross of Christ.

Point #2:

See Christ graphically portrayed on the cross.  This is the strength of  the Christian life.  In the Roman world, the cross was the ultimate symbol of humiliation, shame and dishonor.   But the early church turned this around and saw the cross a symbol of redemption, restoration, and victory over sin. 

There’s a hymn called “Nothing Either Great or Small” that has this verse that I think captures Paul’s words in Galatians 3:1-14 quite well.

Cast your deadly “doing” down—
Down at Jesus’ feet;
Stand in Him, in Him alone,
Gloriously complete.

Point #3:

Thank God that He offers us free and complete forgiveness – even for our lame attempts at righteousness.

Questions to Ponder:

  • When you hear Paul’s words, “You foolish Galatians!” – do you hear words of love and concern or words of frustration and anger?  Why?
  • Paul asks them, “Who has bewitched you?”  Who was bewitching them? 
  • How can you turn your deadly doings into works of faith that glorify God?
  • In your relationship with God, what’s the difference between obeying the law and relying on the law?
  • How can keeping the image of the cross of Christ help you live obediently as his disciple?

Blessings on your meditation of God’s Word!

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