But I Am Not Doing Anything

“The Ten Commandments have no right to condemn that conscience in which Jesus dwells, for Jesus has taken from the Ten Commandments the right and power to curse us. Not as if the conscience is now insensitive to the terrors of the Law, but the Law cannot drive the conscience to despair. ‘There is now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 8:1). ‘If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed’ (John 8:36).

You will complain: ‘But I am not doing anything.’ That is right. You cannot do a thing to be delivered from the tyranny of the Law. But listen to the glad tidings which the Holy Ghost brings to you in the words of the prophet: ‘Rejoice, thou barren.’ As Christ is greater than the Law, so much more excellent is the righteousness of Christ than the righteousness of the Law.”

(Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians)

Jesus as Our Example

About a week ago I posted a blog commenting on Galatians 2:17-21. I preached through those verses this past week at The Well (my church’s weekly college gathering), and as I studied it, my understanding of verse 17 changed.

Verse 17 is not as straightforward as the verses before and after it. This could be because Paul is intellectually brilliant, and the way he is making a counter-argument is, well, brilliant, and not easy to understand. But here is what he seems to be saying.

The false teachers in Galatia are saying that through the law we are saved. They are probably not saying Jesus’ death and resurrection is worthless, but rather we simply need to add to Jesus’ work our obedience to the law. “Jesus + our obedience = salvation” would be their equation.

But Paul has made clear, and makes clear again in verse 16 that we are saved solely by Jesus’ work, with no help of our own. We are saved by grace alone, not by grace plus obedience.

In verse 17, I think Paul turns the false teachers’ argument on its head; he works out its conclusion to its end, showing that it is ridiculous and blasphemous.

He says, “But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin?”

With this “But if…” it is like Paul is saying, “But if it is true what you say…”. He goes on: “But if, in our endeavor to be justified by faith, we too are found to be sinners…” Here is what I think Paul just said, “But if it is true that in this life of trusting that Jesus is enough for us to be fully loved by God, fully justified, we are still found unjustified…”

Paul is using the word “sinners” not to mean people-who-sin, but rather he is using it as he used it just before in verse 15, when he distinguished between Jews and Gentile “sinners”. “Sinners” here refers to people who are still in their sin and guilt. He is looking from God’s perspective, who sees people as either innocent or guilt; saints or sinners; justified or unjustified.

Paul is restating the argument of the false teachers, who say that though Paul and the Galatian churches believe in Jesus, they are still unjustified before God; they are still in their sin and guilt, condemned by God. They must add obedience to the work of Jesus.

Now to the kicker. Paul works out this logic: “…is Jesus then a servant of sin?” This is a bit tricky to understand. I no longer think it means what it sounds like it means. I think Paul is speaking in the same terms he uses in 2 Corinthians 3:5-6.

In 2 Cor. 3:5-6 Paul says there are 2 kinds of ministers, using the same Greek word he uses for “servant” in Galatians. There are ministers (think preachers for simplicity) of the “letter”, meaning the Law of God. And there are ministers of the Spirit, referring to the Spirit who is given according to the preaching of the Gospel. There are ministers of the Law, and ministers of the Gospel.

Ministers of the Law leave people in their sin and guilt. Thus, they are ministers, or servants, of sin. Ministers of the gospel bring good news to those in their sin, news of grace and salvation. Thus, they are servants of salvation.

Do you see what Paul did?

Paul is saying, “When you say that even though we believe in Jesus, we are still unjustified, you make Jesus into a minister of the Law, and not of the Gospel of grace. You turn Jesus into a religious task-master, rather than a Savior. You make Jesus out to be Someone who walked around, telling guilty sinners that if they could just do better, follow His example, and obey God more, they would be acceptable to God. You turn Jesus into Someone who saves no one, for by works of the Law no one will be saved.”

The false teachers make Jesus out to be merely our supreme example of morality, rather than our sovereign Savior.

If this is true of Jesus, this is horrifying news, because this means we are still under the Law, under guilt and condemnation. If we must follow Jesus’ example to be saved, is anyone following his example well enough? Is anyone like Jesus enough to be accepted by God?

This turns Jesus into a lifeguard who sees someone drowning 100 yards out in the ocean, and begins yelling, “Kick harder. Move your arms. Tread water. Don’t drown! (go this example from Tullian Tchividjian)”. Would that be helpful? Of course not! The lifeguard would be telling the drowning person to do things impossible for them to do. If Jesus only came to preach the Law, He would be telling us to do the impossible, to make ourselves acceptable to God.

If Jesus only partly died for our sins, only helps us some of the way, then he does not help at all! Imagine another lifeguard who goes out to the man drowning 100 yards out, and he swims him in 50 yards, and then says, “OK, I have helped save you some, now you must finish the job.” Is that helpful? Is that salvation? No! The guy will still die, just in a new location in the ocean.

If Jesus is only our moral example to follow, and/or only partly save us, then we will still die in our sin. There are only 2 options: either we are saved by works, or by the grace of Jesus. One saves, the other kills (see the next few verses about how the Law kills us).

Praise God, Jesus is not a minister of the Law.

Paul says, “Certainly not!” In my own words, “No freaking way is Jesus our moral example to follow so that we can save ourselves!” That would make Jesus’ whole life, death, and resurrection worthless. God forbid we would believe that. Jesus lived, died, and rose because we are not like Him. We are sinful and rebellious. We are disobedient and stubborn. We need a Savior, not swimming lessons. Praise God, Jesus is enough for you and for me to be accepted by God on Christ’s behalf.

One Thing

I should not be the person I am, living the life I am living. When I was in elementary school, I was a bad kid. When I was in middle school, I was a bad kid. High school? Same story. I’m not saying I’m still not bad, I am. I still sin. And I sin in many ways James 3:2 tells me.

I am not the guy I once was. I used to love sin and obey it fully. I was good at sinning and perfecting the art. The last thing, the last thing I was on target to become was a pastor. That’s not because pastors are perfect, but because legit Christian pastors love Jesus, and I didn’t growing up. I said I did, but I was lying.

So what happened to me? I can say with confidence that I am a different, no new, person. I live a very, no radically, different life now. What happened? I was not looking to change in high school. I was not looking for God. I was not looking for moral living. I was not looking for anything pertaining to Christianity. What happened?

One thing happened to me. It is not overly complicated. It is not hard to understand. It is deep and complex, but even little kids can grasp it.

This one thing that I grasped, but better explained as having grasped me, was presented to the governor of Caesarea in Acts 24. The very thing that changed my life, no, gave me new life, was offered to Felix.

I could explain the one thing that gripped me as the answer to this question, “What do you say about Jesus?” You’re answer will define your life, whether you think so or not. You must answer. If you don’t answer, that is in itself your answer.

What do you say about Jesus?

 

Did God Die on the Cross?

“If God had died on the cross, every living thing, not only in Jerusalem but in the whole world, would have died that same moment, because without the life of God, there is no life possible. No, the God-man died, and the divine nature that had been perfectly united to a living, breathing human nature was then united to a corpse. The deity of Christ did not perish on the cross, because all of life is in God.” – R.C. Sproul

For “In him we live and move and have our being” (see Acts 17:28).

 

 

Scandalous Grace

Tonight I am preaching through the story of what we commonly know as “The Prodigal Son.” It is about a family with 2 sons. The younger son packs up and moves to Vegas to live the “good life”: Sex, drugs, good food, and a lot of alcohol. The older son stays home with his family: Hard work, long days, and a good reputation with his family and community.

(No, the younger son didn’t move to Vegas and the story doesn’t explain his lifestyle beyond being “reckless.” I just assume it involved gnarly stuff, the equivalent for us being sex, drugs, and a lot of alcohol. So, there you go. But that is besides the point.)

The younger son hits rock bottom and comes to his senses, realizing that he might find some grace with his father. He packs up (if he had anything left to pack) and returns home. No doubt, he probably came home with some fear. What will his father do? Will he reject him? Will he accept him? Will he make him pay back all his debt?

The younger son simply hopes to be hired out to be able to make a living for himself, and probably pay back his debt. His father doesn’t accept that though. He doesn’t accept the notion that his son will work as a hired hand, paying back his debt over time. Instead, when his son comes home, he runs to him, kisses him, embraces him, and doesn’t even let the son express his repentance verbally. His father immediately restores him to his family as a son. No strings attached.

This is scandalous. This is more than scandalous. Do you realize what his father did? He was humiliated by his son, wished dead by his son, and gave away a lot of his wealth to his son, who then used his wealth to probably buy prostitutes, drugs, and alcohol, for himself and his buddies. He had absolutely nothing to show for himself but unworthiness.

Yet the father treats him like the greatest son to ever walk the face of the earth. Why?

There is only one answer.

Grace. Radical, scandalous grace. Grace so amazing it infuriates his older brother.

Rather than rejoicing that his younger brother is home, safe and alive, he is outraged. He boils with anger. How could his father celebrate that his unworthy, nasty son has come home? How could he restore him back to the family without asking for any kind of restitution to be made? How could he be so…gracious?

The grace of God has a way of offending the religious. It makes those of us who wish to earn our way to God angry that God would accept and love and favor such dirty, unworthy people. Religious people depend on their good works to earn their way to God. So when those who have nothing but bad works to show for themselves find their way into God’s presence, they are outraged.

The issue is that in our religiosity we don’t see a need for grace. We don’t think we need Jesus. We don’t think we need the cross. With our actions we proclaim, “Why would Jesus have to die for me? I’m worthy of God!”

Not only does the runaway son need to repent of his sin, so does his religious older brother. The older brother needs to repent of his sin of trusting his own merit to earn God’s blessing. He needs to repent of trying to put God in his debt, manipulating him to give him blessings. Both are separated from God by the way they live. Both can be restored to God immediately through the scandalous grace of Christ crucified.