Pat Quinn / Oct 18, 2015 / Galatians 1:1-1:5
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Sermon Summary / Transcript
I must admit, it’s a good day to be a Spartan. Sorry, Wolverine fans. Even Mark Dantonio attributed yesterday to divine intervention. But it is even a better day to be a blood-bought, Spirit-filled, heaven-bound child of God, and that’s true every day. Amen?
Let’s pray. Father, we want to be people who walk by faith, not by sight. We thank You that You have given us Your Word, which is a lamp unto our feet as we walk—sometimes through dark places. We thank You that Your Spirit is the Spirit of light and truth Who guides us and strengthens us. Thank you that the very same Spirit inspired Your Word, the Bible. We call on Him now to help us to understand it. I ask that You would come upon me with clarity, conciseness, and a compelling truth from God; and that You would work in all of our hearts, so that our thoughts, intentions, and meditation would be acceptable to You. We want to see Jesus with the eyes of our hearts today. Would You do that, Lord? For the glory of Your Name and Your Son, the spread of the gospel, and the joy of Your people, we pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
On September 24th, Pope Francis spoke before Congress. He began his talk with these words:
“I am most grateful for your invitation to address this joint session of Congress ‘in the land of the free and the home of the brave.’”
It’s always a good PR move to quote our national anthem. Pope Francis was reminding us Americans of how much we love freedom. We love to talk, sing, and write about it. Everybody in this room today loves freedom. Little kids: I know my two-and-a- half year old granddaughter Brielle loves freedom, mostly from her Mom and Dad. Middle schoolers, high-schoolers, college students, young adults, middle-agers, and those of us who are getting to be golden-agers love freedom. We all love freedom.
Here are some voices, both old and new, that have spoken about freedom. Thomas Jefferson said:
“We are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights…that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
For Jefferson, freedom is a right that we are right to claim.
Science-fiction writer Robert Heinlein said:
“I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do. I am free, no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them. If I find them obnoxious, I break them. I am free, because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do.”
For him, freedom is moral autonomy.
Maybe a more familiar definition would be from self-help guru Wayne Dyer, who says:
“Freedom means you are unobstructed in living your life as you choose. Anything less is a form of slavery.”
So there’s a contrast between freedom and slavery.
When we turn to the Bible, we see that it talks much about freedom and slavery, but in very different terms. Here’s what Jesus said in John 8:
34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
For Jesus, freedom is not liberation from rules, but from sin.
In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, which we’re going to look at today, Paul raises a battle cry for Christians. He says:
1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
Paul’s battle cry of freedom was not just “freedom from sin”, but freedom from all forms of self-salvation. Therefore, this letter to the Galatians has been called the Magna Carta of Christianity. It’s Paul’s passionate explanation of, application of, and exhortation to true freedom.
Now, before you turn there, let me give you a little background on this book. It was probably written around 50 A.D., after Paul had completed his first missionary journey (about 20 years after Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection). On that first missionary journey, he traveled through Asia Minor (what would be southern Turkey today) and planted four churches in Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derby.
In the early days of the church there arose a controversy about what to do about Gentile converts to Christianity. So, to get a little background on this controversy, I ask you to turn in your Bibles to Acts 15. The gospel had been preached by Paul (and others). People were being converted and experiencing great freedom and joy. But there was a group of Christians from the sect of the Pharisees that were not fully pleased with what was going on. Look at Acts 15:1:
1 But some men came down from Judea [probably from the church in Jerusalem] and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”
As you look through this chapter, Paul and Barnabas are headed down to Jerusalem, and they’re converting Gentiles, and so on. And they tell about all the works that God has done to convert Gentiles. Then they end up in Jerusalem for this early church council to decide the problem. And if you look at verse 5, again we see this refrain:
5 But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.”
So what we have in the early church is two competing gospels. The one from the false teachers says, “It is necessary to believe in Jesus as the Messiah, but it is not sufficient for salvation. To be fully saved, you need to supplement faith in Christ with religious law-keeping.” As we’re going to see, this first church council (and Paul in Galatians) said, “No, that’s not true. Salvation and true freedom come through faith alone in Christ alone.” Look at Acts 15:11. Peter speaks, and concludes his talk by saying:
11 But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.
After more discussion, James (the leading apostle in Jerusalem) summarizes the early Church’s decision about the Gentiles in verse 19:
19 Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God…
The apostles and elders convene, debate, and, led by the Holy Spirit, come to the conclusion that there is no need to be circumcised and obey the law of Moses. In other words, you do not need to become Jewish to be fully saved as a Christian.
So, as we look at Galatians, we’re going to be looking at two big questions. The first is: what is Paul’s authority in this matter? He is going to unpack the gospel of freedom in Galatians, but what authority does he have to weigh in on this? And the second question is: what is the gospel that actually leads to freedom?
So let’s turn back to Galatians. We’re going to read the first ten verses, although we’ll be concentrating primarily on the first five. Galatians 1:
1 Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— 2 and all the brothers who are with me,
To the churches of Galatia:
3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.
10 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.
What is Paul’s authority? He tells us in the first verse, right off the bat: “Paul, an apostle…” The Greek word ‘apostolos’ means ‘one who is sent’. In the early church, this originally meant one of twelve apostles sent by God with an immediate divine authority to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. As I said, Christ originally chose twelve, but then Judas betrayed Christ and Matthias replaced him. Later on we’ll see how the Apostle Paul also was called to preach the gospel. We’ll look at that in just a minute.
There were two credentials for an apostle: number one, you had to have been a witness of the risen Christ; and number two, Jesus needed to have specifically commissioned you to preach the gospel. So Paul says, “Paul, an apostle”, and then he says, “not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead…” Some people might have thought, “Paul, your authority is a derived, dependent authority, because you were commissioned to preach by the church of apostles and elders in Jerusalem,” but Paul says “No.” He was not set apart and commissioned by the other apostles or the church, but by Jesus Christ Himself.
Keep a finger in Galatians. I’m going to trouble you one more time to turn back to the book of Acts—this time to Acts 26. We’re going to look at Paul’s conversion—when Jesus commissioned him to be an apostle—because Paul’s only authority to unpack the gospel for us is a divine authority. Starting in verse 12, Paul is speaking to King Agrippa, and he recounts his conversion. Acts 26:12:
12 “In this connection I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. 13 At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. 14 And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ 15 And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. 16 But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, 17 delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you 18 to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’”
Look back again at verse 12. Paul starts out this story headed to Damascus with a witness, a commission, and an authority, but it’s not from God. He says,
…I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests.
That commission and authority is going to be completely exchanged for a higher commission and authority. Paul says, “Jesus Christ himself appeared to me. I was a witness to the risen Christ, because Jesus said, ‘I have appeared to you’ and ‘I am sending you’.”
So Paul is a witness, and is commissioned as a servant to preach the gospel. He fulfills the two requirements of an apostle. Therefore, Paul’s gospel that we’re going to look at today—and probably whenever I preach for the next five years—is divinely inspired, revealed, and commissioned. No one can dismiss it as irrelevant. No one can revise it as needing correction. No one can try to hold some sort of authority over it as if superior to it. No one can supplement it with some kind of religious tradition, as if it were incomplete.
We know that people have repeatedly done those last few things throughout the history of the church. They have tried to show some superior authority over the Scripture and the gospel, and/or they have tried to supplement it with something else. We see that in Mormonism. According to Joseph Smith, the angel Moroni appeared to him and supplemented the Bible with the Book of Mormon.
We see it in some liberal strands of Christian scholarship. Back in the 1950s, there was a British Bible scholar named C.H. Dodd, who in many ways did good work in New Testament scholarship, but listen to what he said.
“Sometimes I think Paul is wrong and I have ventured to say so.”
You see that Dodd, the scholar has placed himself with a higher authority than Paul.
We see it in Roman Catholic tradition, where the bishops of the Roman Catholic Church are seen as having the authority to absolutely, infallibly interpret Scripture and supplement it with church tradition.
But Paul says that his gospel, which he received not from man but directly from Jesus, is absolutely authoritative. It’s over everyone, and it cannot be revised, changed, or improved on. It is the absolute standard of Christian faith, practice, and orthodoxy.
Now I want you to look back to Galatians 1. We’re going to stay there, I promise. I want us to look at verse 8. First, Paul greets the churches in Galatia. He unpacks the gospel itself in verses 3-5, which we will look at in a minute. And then he says in verse 6:
6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel…
After Paul had preached in these Galatian churches, these Jewish Christians had come in and said, “You need to be circumcised or you’re not saved.” Paul says, “As you listen to them, you’re turning to a different gospel, but there really is no other.”
Look at verse 8. Paul says:
8 But even if we [Who’s ‘we’? Other apostles] or an angel from heaven [like in Mormonism] should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.
Paul is saying, “Look, even if I, who originally preached the gospel to you, upon further reflection change or tweak it, add something to it, or subtract something from it, let me go to Hell.” Paul says that the gospel has authority over him. He received it directly from Jesus, and has no authority to change this gospel. Nor does the Roman Catholic Church, the Mormons, or any liberal scholar.
The gospel, inscripturated in the Bible, is over the church, not vice-versa. That’s why, as Kevin often says, preaching (especially on Sunday morning) should be expository (verse-by-verse) through a text, because the only authority that Kevin, Jason, or anyone else claims is the text itself. The Bible is over the church and over each one of us. The apostolic gospel, as delivered to the apostles, preached, and eventually written down in the New Testament, is our final authority.
So, as we study Galatians in the coming months (and maybe years), we can trust Paul and his authority to reliably, infallibly, and even inerrantly lead us to true and lasting freedom. That’s Paul’s authority: he was divinely appeared to and commissioned to preach an authoritative, divine gospel.
Second question: what is this gospel? Remember, we said there was a conflict between two competing gospels. Was it Christ alone and faith alone in Him, or was it Christ and something else added to Him? Well, he says again in Galatians:
3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be the glory forever and ever.
We see that the gospel is a piece of news. It is a message of grace and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. As has been famously said, “The gospel is not good advice; the gospel is good news.”
When I preached last summer, I quoted J. Gresham Machen, who said:
“Where the most eloquent exhortation fails, the simple story of an event succeeds. Men are transformed by a piece of news.”
The Christian gospel is not a religious system like Islam. In Islam, you must follow the Five Pillars, which include confessing God alone and Mohammed as his prophet, making a pilgrimage to Mecca once in your lifetime, giving alms, and so on. If you faithfully do these five pillars of Islam, maybe someday, if your good deeds outweigh your bad deeds, Allah might accept you and bring you to heaven. The gospel is nothing like that.
It’s also not a philosophy of enlightenment, like Hinduism. It’s not a eight-fold path to nirvana, like Buddhism. It isn’t a self-improvement program, like many modern psychologies, and it’s not a human ladder of success and self-esteem.
Here’s what the gospel is: it’s a divine announcement of what God Himself has single-handedly done to save guilty helpless sinners like you and me. The gospel is like the good news that the Allies have landed to liberate Europe. They’re not just dropping leaflets over Europe, explaining how to build better weapons and fight more effectively. It’s like the good news that the surgery has completely removed the cancer—not an exercise and diet plan for self-healing. The gospel is like the good news that your rich uncle has paid off all your creditors once and for all, not that he found you an extra job to earn the money to get out of debt. The gospel is not a religious reform. It is a rescue mission. The gospel is not “Obey these rules and you’ll get right with God.” We might call that a religious form of self-salvation. The gospel is not “Perform and achieve this or that, and you will be free and fulfilled”, either. We could call that a secular form of self-salvation. Rather, the gospel is “Believe this message. Receive this Savior. Rejoice in His grace. Live in His freedom, and then give yourselves in love to others.” It’s a rescue mission, not a religious reform.
A Message of Grace and Peace
The gospel message, contrary to all human expectations, is motivated by sheer grace, favor, kindness, and benevolence. It’s undeserved, unexpected, and sometimes even unsought for. Think about Paul’s conversion. Did he deserve for Jesus to appear to him, save him, and commission him? Of course not. Was he expecting it as he was traveling toward Damascus? No. Was he even seeking it? No, he was seeking the opposite: to persecute Jesus. It’s all about grace, which is why we, as Christians, love to sing.
Isn’t that true? I’ve been leading worship in this church for over forty years. One of the things that has kept me going is that it’s a joy to lead people at University Reformed Church in singing. It’s great to get up here, start strumming my guitar, and have people just erupt into this wonderful sound of praise. Christians love to sing.
I once heard a story about a Christian group who approached the local radio station to see if they could start a Sunday morning Christian music program. The program manager said, “Yes, you may do that, but in order to be fair we’ve got to let all the other religious groups know. If they want to start a program, they can do that too.” So they sent out information to all the other religious groups in the area—and there was no response. I don’t know whether other religions like to sing, but I do know that Christians like to sing.
And we love to sing about grace, don’t we? We sing songs like:
“Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.”
We love to sing things like:
“Grace amazing, pure and deep
That saw me in my misery
That took my curse and owned my blame
So I could bear Your righteous name.”
Or maybe an older one:
“What wondrous love is this, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss
to bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul.”
The experience of grace is what caused me to write these words on March 21, 1991:
“A prisoner of sin, now I’m starting to see.
Jesus alone can set prisoners free.
The shackles of sin are broken by grace
And released by the power of the Savior’s embrace.”
We love to sing about grace. The gospel is motivated by God’s grace.
And then it leads us into peace:
3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father…
The gospel brings deep, abiding, liberating peace. It brings peace, first of all, with God.
1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Peace with God is the ultimate source of all other kinds of peace. We’re no longer alienated or in a hostile relationship of enmity with Him.
But it also brings peace with others. Paul says:
[Be] 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
The Holy Spirit gives us a bond of peace. I’ve been in this church since 1973. Does everybody always agree with each other? No. But has there been a divine bond of peace that has kept us together? Yes.
And then, finally, we have peace within ourselves. In our psychologized culture, this maybe the one we crave the most. Paul says in Philippians 4:
…6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
And then listen to this promise:
7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
I know that many of you could testify to times when you were going through deep trials. Life may have felt like it was crumbling all around you, and yet you can testify to an amazing peace that was bigger, better, and seemed to be independent of the circumstances. It’s grace, and it leads to peace, shalom, harmony, and well-being.
The gospel is also a message that centers on Christ. I was just reading in the AARP magazine (I’m old enough for that now). There was a big picture of Oprah Winfrey captioned “Oprah’s Spirituality”. I was interested to know what Oprah’s spirituality was, because she was going to be leading everybody over 50 to discover it. I figured I’d better listen. What I found was a combination of real Christian truth with a lot of other things. She would talk about Jesus, but then was basically open to any other religion as well.
But the gospel centers exclusively, intentionally, and intensely upon Jesus Christ. And not just upon Jesus: upon Christ crucified. Did you notice?
3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave himself for our sins…
This is the heart of our faith. It’s what theologians call “substitutionary atonement”. It means that the cross is not merely an expression of divine love, a good example to follow, or a message about how God has conquered sin, death, and Satan, although it is all of those. The gospel is about Jesus, who stood in our place to deliver us from the punishment, wrath, and curse that we deserved. He stood in as a substitute.
We see that in several places in the New Testament. Hebrews 2:
14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he [Jesus] himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death [the death that we deserve] he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.
The writer to the Hebrews is talking about the incarnation and atonement of Jesus. He refers to Gethsemane, where Jesus sweat blood on our behalf, and Golgotha, where He shed blood on our behalf to deliver us from the power of Satan and the fear of death.
We see this substitution in 2 Corinthians 5:21, where Paul says:
21 For our sake he made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
(2 Corinthians 5:21)
Do you see that exchange there? Christ takes our sin on the cross and gives us His righteousness. It’s substitutionary atonement.
We see it later in Galatians 3, where it says:
13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law [again, that we deserved] by becoming a curse for us [by substituting Himself for us]… so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
The exchange here is that He took the curse, so that we get the blessing of the Holy Spirit. We see that the message of the gospel focuses on Christ crucified, who substituted Himself, took your sin, curse, and death, and gave you His righteousness, blessing, and eternal life.
When we end this service in a little while, I’m going to do a benediction—the one that Kevin often does from Numbers. It’s the priestly blessing, and it starts out:
24 The Lord bless you and keep you…
Think about it, brothers and sisters. How could God bless and keep sinners? Only because Jesus was cursed and forsaken out of love for you. Then it says:
25 …the Lord make his face to shine upon you [the Lord smile on you] and be gracious to you…
But how could that be? Because Jesus went into the outer darkness of God’s wrath out of love for you. And it ends:
26 …the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
Because the Father turned his face away from the beloved out of love for you. So the Gospel is a message of grace and peace. It’s a message that focuses on Christ, who gave Himself for our sins.
A Delivering Message
The gospel is a rescue mission, not a religious reform. It is meant to deliver us, not give us advice on how to save ourselves. Judy and I have a son named Neal who is a pastor near Chicago. He has a wonderful wife named Leandra and the two cutest grandchildren ever—sorry. Brielle is two and a half, and Corin is about six or seven months. Recently, the whole family went to a park where there was a pond. The way I heard the story first was that Brielle jumped into the pond. That wasn’t true, although it could have been. She actually fell into the pond, and she’s standing in water. Now, when a little toddler falls into water, they don’t know what to do, so Leandra quickly rushed to help her. Would it have done any good if Leandra had looked at her daughter, submerged in water, and said, “Brielle, what are you doing there? I told you not to get near the edge of the pond. Now do this: start flapping your arms and that’ll push you to the edge.” She didn’t need good advice. She needed her mom to reach down, grab her, and pull her out of the water. She needed to be delivered.
Brothers and sisters, that’s what you need. That’s what I need. That’s what everyone needs. We need rescue, and the gospel is a divine rescue mission.
In a more spiritual sense, I think of the story of John Bunyan. He wrote one of the most famous English-speaking books ever, “The Pilgrims Progress”, in the 1600s. He spent eleven years in jail, because he was a nonconformist Baptist preacher. When he was a young man (we hear these kinds of stories throughout church history), he was deeply under the conviction of God. He was deeply distressed out of an oppressive sense of sinfulness. In fact, he was convinced he had committed the unforgiveable sin and that he was damned. No matter what he tried to do, he could not get free—until one day, he said:
“I was passing into the field and this sentence fell upon my soul. ‘Thy righteousness is in heaven.’ And I saw, with the eyes of my soul, Jesus Christ at God’s right hand and there I say was my righteousness, so that wherever I was and whatever I was doing, God could not say of me ‘He lacks my righteousness,’ for that righteousness was just before him. I also saw that it was not my good frame of heart, my holy affections, that made my righteousness better, nor yet my bad frame that made my righteousness worse, for my righteousness was Jesus Christ Himself, the same yesterday, today, and forever. Now did my chains fall off my legs indeed! I was loosed from my afflictions and irons. My temptations also fled away and I went home rejoicing for the grace of God.”
That’s rescue. That’s deliverance. That’s what the gospel does.
But Paul says that it’s not just to deliver us from our individual sins and misery, (important as that is), but to deliver us from the present evil age. “…the present evil age” means that people are collectively and individually against God. We live in an evil age. It doesn’t make any difference what part of history it is. It’s always an evil age. We need to be delivered from that.
In Isaiah 5:20, it says this:
Woe [or ‘damned’] to those who call evil good
and good evil,
who put darkness for light
and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
and sweet for bitter!
We need deliverance from a culture that calls evil good and good evil. I want to give two obvious examples from the areas where we see it most obviously (although it’s true in many other areas as well): human sexuality and relationships. It used to be that divorce was not seen as a good thing. I was reminded by someone after the first service that divorce laws in the past could be very unjust, especially for women and so on, so I’m not trying to make comments on that. But several generations ago, divorce was seen as the tragic breakdown of a marriage. Jesus said when He talked to the Pharisees about it that, “Moses allowed divorce because of the hardness of your heart.” He said that there were exceptions. It was okay, in a couple of situations, to get divorced—but He didn’t promote it as a good thing to aspire to.
Listen to this quote. This is a quote from a book by a man and a woman (I assume a husband and a wife) that came out over thirty years ago, so it’s probably worse now. Listen to what they say about divorce:
“Yes, your marriage can wear out. People change their values and lifestyles. People want to experience new things. Change is a part of life. Change and personal growth are traits for you to be proud of, indicative of a vital, searching mind. You must accept the reality that in today’s multi-faceted world, it is especially easy for two persons to grow apart. Letting go of your marriage, if it is no longer good for you, can be the most successful thing you have ever done. Getting a divorce can be a positive, problem-solving, growth-oriented step. It can be a personal triumph.”
(J.H and N.W. Adam)
To which God would say, “Woe to you. You call evil good and good evil.”
We’re all aware of this one: last June, the highest court of the land institutionalized and legalized what Paul called dishonorable passions contrary to nature. It was one of the very few times that the United States government has actually institutionalized evil. The swing vote in the decision was by Anthony Kennedy, who said,
“Gay marriage is a liberty no longer to be denied.”
And when our President Barack Obama heard the decision, he said,
“We have now made our union [the United States] a little more perfect.”
To which God would say, “Woe to you. You call evil good and good evil.” Brothers and sisters, we need to be delivered not only from our individual sins, but from the present evil age, because it affects all of us.
Our Response to the Gospel
Verses 3-5 end with Paul unpacking the gospel very briefly. Then he says,
…according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be the glory forever and ever.
I think we apply this message as we consider what the will of God our Father is. And the will of God our Father is that we would simply believe this good news.
So there is a word here for all of us. It’s a gracious, saving, delivering, rescuing word. It’s a word to anyone here who, in their heart of hearts, knows that they are not really a believer and follower of Jesus Christ. You may be religious or not, but you know, deep down, that Christ is not your Lord and Savior. There’s a word here for you that you need to recognize: that before God you are guilty as a sinner, as we all are, and that you are helpless—that good advice and religious reform cannot save you. You need rescue. It’s a gracious word to you to look to Jesus and say, “I believe and I receive You.”
But it’s also a word to all of us who may already believe. Isn’t it true that in our heart of hearts we don’t believe deeply enough? Isn’t that true? We believe this gospel, we’ve tasted this freedom, but there are areas of our life that it’s not affecting. We’re not connecting it. And there are other areas where we’re sort of getting it, but we know we need more freedom from sin, more freedom to love God and love others.
There’s a call to each one of us this morning: to believe that the Lord is patient towards you, not wishing or willing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. We are many times like that father of the demon-possessed boy, who when confronted with the words of Jesus—that anything is possible to those who believe—cried out,
“I believe; help my unbelief!”
Isn’t that true for you? We believe, but we need Jesus to help us overcome our unbelief. So that’s one way we respond: we believe this message that alone can rescue us from sin and death.
And the second way that we respond is to recognize that it is God’s will to give Himself the glory forever. If He does the work and rescues us, He gets all the glory. If He simply tells us what to do and we do it, we get some of the glory. But God wants all the glory, so we can have all the joy of thankfulness and worship.
And so I think of these words in the last book of the Bible, speaking about the Lord Jesus, who gave Himself for our sins:
“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.”
It is God’s will that you believe and that you now give Him all the glory.
Let’s pray. Lord, we confess that command to believe—to turn around, look to Jesus alone, and believe—is both shockingly simple and shockingly hard. It’s simple because we don’t have to clean ourselves up first. We don’t need to get right first. We just need to turn to Jesus and with repentant, urgent faith, say, “Lord Jesus, I believe that You can rescue me.”
But Lord, it’s hard, because if truth be told, we would rather be self-sufficient. We would rather not be weak and helpless. We would rather do it ourselves. And therefore, we have much trouble. We need Your Holy Spirit now to give us repentance and faith, to break the chains of unbelief, pride, idolatry, the fear of man, and a thousand other obstacles. So, Holy Spirit, would You delight to lift up Christ as we sing this last song—and, even as we sing and look to Him in faith, would the chains fall off, that we might believe and receive and rejoice and live? Not unto us, O Lord, be the glory, but to Your name be the glory forever. In Jesus’ name. Amen.