The Wonder of Gospel Freedom

An exposition of Galatians 1:1-24. This message by Pastor Rod Harris was delivered at Trinity Baptist Church on Sunday morning, January 11, 2009.

I don’t know why I did it.  It was a moment of weakness, a lapse in judgment, a brain-dead incident – for whatever reason I actually said, “Rheadon why don’t you get out of the house for awhile I’ll watch the kids.”  Three kids, under school age it was my day off and I figured, “how hard could it be?”  After a few minutes I started picking some things and putting dirty clothes in the laundry basket.  I put things in draws and generally cleaned up.  In short order I had made great progress.  To be honest I was beginning to wonder what her problem was!  As far as I could tell there was no reason why our home should shine all the time.  I finished the last little bit and I was very proud.  I can’t wait to see the look on her face when she sees what I’ve done I’m sure she’ll want to learn my system.  Basking in the glow of my success I turned and started back through the house.

I could not believe it.  Somehow, by the grace of God, a tornado had touched down inside our house without killing us all.  That was the only explanation I had for the devastation I saw before me.  It was worse than before I started.  I “very calmly” called the children.  I proceeded to explain we did not live in a pigsty.  I demanded an explanation.  They all three looked at each other and then looked at me and said, “What?”

Have you ever known the frustration of working hard only to see what you worked for destroyed?  Ever pour your heart and soul into a project just to see it move in a different direction, moving toward an end that would destroy all you had done?  That’s where the apostle Paul was when he sat down to write to the churches of Galatia.

Paul had traveled through the Roman province of Galatia during his first missionary journey (Acts 13-14).  There he established churches and laid the foundation for Gospel work throughout the region.  Now word has reached him that others have followed and are undermining his message.  These false teachers are preaching another Gospel.  Their gospel is a distortion or perversion of the one they had received.  According to their gospel faith in Jesus was absolutely necessary but it was not enough.  You must believe in Jesus and you must embrace Judaism.  You must be circumcised, you must follow the dietary laws, and you must keep the Sabbaths and adhere to the rituals.  This was a serious matter.  At stake was the Gospel itself.  Are we saved by grace or not?  At issue was the Gospel and in turn the souls of men.  Paul’s message of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone found in this book became the rallying cry for the Protestant Reformation.  If the false teachers were successful the Gospel would be lost and the church would be enslaved to “religion.”  Paul’s position is summarized in 5:1, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”  This morning we begin a study of the book of Galatians.  Our text is the first chapter of Galatians.

Text: Galatians 1:1-24
If you are to understand Paul’s message you must understand where he is coming from.  This was Paul’s message: There is one God – the creator of all that is. This one God has unveiled His long-awaited plan for the world. This plan is revealed in the person of Jesus Christ the Messiah of the Jews. This Jesus was executed by the Romans – but God raised him from the dead. This resurrection means God is making a new family. A family without divisions, no separate races, no one table for the Jews/one for the Gentiles. And because of Jesus – you don’t have to become a Jew to be part of the family. The God of Israel wants to be known as the Father of the whole world. That was his message.  And you enter this family by faith.  By believing in and trusting what Christ has done for us.  It is not about working, striving, earning, it is about trusting/believing.  Now some false teachers have moved in and they are saying, “Paul has it all wrong.  Don’t listen to him.  He isn’t even an apostle – not a real one.  He got his message from someone who doesn’t know what they are talking about.  We have to truth.  You listen to us.  Because a good Jew and then trust Jesus as your Messiah.  Believe in Jesus – but you also must follow the rules.”

Everywhere the Gospel has been preached, there have been those who contend that it is too good to be true.  Faith isn’t enough, argues the legalist.  We must earn god’s approval.  Some believe we earn God’s favor by what we know (intellectualism).  Others are certain we are saved by what we do (moralism).  A growing number seems to think we are saved by how we feel (emotionalism).  However you package it, it amounts to the same thing – you earn your way.  The message of Paul, the message of the Gospel is that salvation comes only through the cross – no additions, no subtractions, no substitutes.

With that in mind let’s look at our text.

This letter was crucial in the days of the reformation.  Luther called it his Catherine von Bora (his wife’s name) for he was “married to it.”  Its message was stabilizing in tumultuous, epoch-changing times.  We are living in such days and I’m convinced we must again rediscover its message for our own time.

Thesis: In the midst of sweeping changes and declining numbers the church must fight the urge to cling tenaciously to tradition and rediscover the wonder of God’s grace and the stabilizing influence of Gospel freedom.

There are three things I want to point out quickly.

1. Gospel freedom is born out of the depth and wonder of the work of grace.  (1:1-5)
No doubt some worried, “How do you keep people in line when there are no rules? Rules keep people on the straight and narrow. Paul makes it clear throughout this letter that there is a more profound motivation and it begins with an understanding of the wonder of God’s grace. Paul begins by identifying himself as an “apostle.” Look carefully at 1:1 – “…not from men nor through man but through Jesus Christ and God the Father…”

It is interesting to note Paul did not argue his case with his critics. He did not seek to persuade them or convince them. He stated the fact and moved on. He does lay out a case for the Gospel – IT WAS NOT ABOUT HIM!
1:4 is a key to understanding Paul’s perspective throughout the book.  He possessed a keen awareness of what the grace of God had accomplished.

The word “rescue” means to be snatched from the fire.  It signifies deliverance from impending doom.  That is what Christ has done for us.  Dead in trespass and sin.  Guilty of rebellion against the creator, under the penalty of death but He has rescued us.  He has broken the power of sin in our lives.  He has released us from the chains that bind.  The message of salvation is the message of freedom and deliverance.  And Paul’s advice is stand firm in that freedom and don’t ever be enslaved again.

2. Gospel freedom refuses to allow any compromise in the message of grace.  (1:6-9)
It is at this point in most of Paul’s writings he praises the recipients for their faithfulness to God.  Not so with the Galatians.  Instead there is a stinging rebuke because they have abandoned the message of grace. (As an aside note he addressed this concern to the congregation.  Not the elders, or deacons or leaders or even the false teachers – but the congregation.)

Why is Paul so agitated? Because to tamper with the Gospel is to tamper with the souls of men. It you lose the Gospel you lose everything.

Why is Paul uncompromising on this point? Because of his background as a Pharisee.  He had lived under the bondage of legalism.  He spent his whole life trying to be righteous, seeking God’s approval.  It left him empty and unfulfilled.  Then God’s grace came upon him on the Damascus Road.  The chains of legalism and bondage to rules and regulations were broken.  He was not about to sit idly by and allow the churches of Galatia to be enslaved by a gospel, which is no gospel.  There is a time for compromise but this is not it.  There is no room for compromise when dealing with the essence of the Gospel.  We must fight the urge to add to the Gospel.  We must resist the temptation of implying that you must believe and…

Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone, to the glory of God alone – period!

But wait a minute.  If you preach that – if you say it is all of grace and no works.  That it is faith in Christ plus nothing – not the church, not baptism, not living a certain way won’t that lead to anarchy and chaos?  What happens to the church?  What happens to mutual accountability and responsibility?  If people really believe this Gospel won’t that result in everyone doing their own thing and thinking they can just live any way they please?

We’re worried we will lose control. Because we’ve forgotten the third thing I want us to note in our text…

3. Gospel freedom tames even its most ardent opponent.  (1:10-24)
1:10 = an important disclaimer.

  • 1:11-14 = a little biographical summary. Something happened. Something dramatically altered the life of Saul of Tarsus.
  • 1:16-24 As a result of the power and grace of God his life was changed forever.  The change was so dramatic he became the talk of the Christian world.  It was so dramatic it caused people to look beyond Paul and give praise to God.

Old things passed away and all things became new.  The things he once hated he now loved and what he loved he now despised.  He who once sought to destroy the church was now its most potent evangelist.  He no longer needed rules, regulations or rituals he was now bound by a gracious freedom.

Are you here without Christ?  I have good news for you.  There is a glorious new life awaiting you.  It is yours by grace.  You don’t have to strive, you don’t have to labor, and you don’t have to change.  But I warn you – you’ll never be the same.

If you are a Christian it’s not about control.  It’s not about keeping people in line.  It is about preaching Christ and allowing God to police His own.  I’m not saying that holiness and righteousness do not matter.  I’m not saying, “Trust Jesus and live however you want.”  I am saying legalism – whatever its form – is deadly to genuine faith.  I’m saying let’s preach Christ and allow the Gospel to do its transforming work.  I’m saying, In the midst of sweeping changes and declining numbers the church must fight the urge to cling tenaciously to tradition and rediscover the wonder of God’s grace and the stabilizing influence of Gospel freedom.

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