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Inscription: Writing God’s Words on Our Hearts & Minds

Part 76: Grace 1st, Works 2nd

Galatians 2:15-21

May 27, 2012


SCRIPTURE READING: Gal. 1:6-9 (Eddie Kelley)


As I pastor, I have received some pretty NASTY EMAILS. I have learned a very important TECHNIQUE – first I give the email a quick read, and I might even start to draft a response, but I don’t send it.

* “The WRATH of MAN does not produce the righteousness of God.”

I take a DAY to COOL down, then re-read their email, looking for what truth might be in it. Then I take time to RESPOND POLITELY. Most of the time.

* But sometimes an IMMEDIATE, STRONG response is needed.

The book of GALATIANS is like that. Paul finds out that people have come in and corrupt the Gospel and Paul responds with clear decisive response.

* Galatians covers similar territory as ROMANS, but is more BLUNT and VISCERAL.

The GREETING is unusually short: If email, it would be as if subject line said “What on earth are you THINKING?!?” and the first line said, “I can’t believe you are being so STUPID.”

It included one of my FAVORITE LINES in the whole Bible. He is speaking about false teachers who are telling Christians they need to be circumcised:

Galatians 5:12 As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!

He’s basically saying, “Since they are so into circumcision, I wish they’d move the knife up a few inches and finish the job!”


As I READ and RE-READ the book, I kept on wondering what to preach on: We are a good, grace-based church; we don’t believe that we are saved by works. This is OLD HAT, right?

Well, no. The more and more time I spent in Galatians, I saw how much we STILL NEED to understand its message.

* What I am going to say will sound CONTROVERSIAL and will make some of you pretty MAD.

PAUL was ACCUSED of encouraging people to sin and if we preach him accurately, we will probably be accused of the same.

* I will take it FULL CIRCLE, but you might get uncomfortable in the process – be sure to listen to it all.


To SET the SCENE, Paul is showing how easy it is for even the BEST of the BEST to be lead astray by legalism:

Galatians 2:11-14 When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. 12 Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. 13 The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. 14 When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?

In JEWISH CUSTOMS, it was a big no-no to eat with Gentiles, lest they defile you. The only way around it was if they were to CONVERT to JUDAISM, which was unpopular due to the whole circumcision thing.

* It wasn’t until God poured out the SPIRIT on UNCIRCUMCISED Gentiles in ACTS 10 they early Christian began to understand.

PETER of all people should have KNOWN BETTER, but because of his FEAR of other CHRISTIANS, he caved to legalism


Paul goes on to say:

Galatians 2:15-16 “We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ 16 know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.

“JUSTIFIED” is one of those really important ideas in the Bible. It has a lot of different nuances, and one of them is to be WELCOMED into the community of God:

Deep down, Jews knew they were ACCEPTED by God not because they were so good, but because God is GRACIOUS and LOVING. But it was so EASY to start THINKING it was because of what they did.

* Paul is saying that he and Peter know that God’s ACCEPTANCE and FORGIVENESS doesn’t come through OBSERVING the law.


This expression “OBSERVING the law” is extremely important. Most translations translate it more literally, “works of the law.” This is where we get the expression “WORKS” from, “we are not saved by works.”

Q What are the works of the law?

It simply means doing what the LAW SAYS to do. This means the rules that no longer apply, like circumcision and eating kosher. But it also means the rules that still apply:

Don’t commit adultery.

Don’t get drunk.

Don’t murder.

Don’t have sex outside of marriage.

Don’t have sex with the same sex.

Don’t lie.

Don’t steal.

Do help the orphans and widows.

Do be generous with your money.

Do raise your children well.

These are all GOD’S RULES that he expects us to obey. He is our KING, and we are OBLIGATED to obey him. What’s more, obedience brings JOY.

* But doing these ARE NOT what makes us ACCEPTABLE to God.

I think we all UNDERSTAND this, but we DON’T. Like Peter, we are still INCLINED to make being part of GOD’S FAMILY about following the RULES. Here is what I mean:

Last Sunday, we watched MARK DRISCOLL talk about marriage, and he said some really good stuff. But as he answered a question, he threw in some commentary that bothered me:

“If a friend who professes to be a Christian is living with his girlfriend, who also professes to be a Christian—” [“If I know two vegans who eat steak—” I just don’t even understand the question. How...?] “How should we confront him as a professing brother in Christ?”1

That hit me SOUR at the time and kept ringing in my ears all day, and helped MOTIVE this SERMON.

Q Can you see WHY it bothered me?

* He makes it sound like CHRISTIANITY is not sleeping with your girlfriend just as being VEGAN is not eating meat.

Now, MARK is strong believer in GRACE, and he would be mortified to be used as an example of works salvation, but I think even saying that creates the wrong picture.

I much preferred how his wife GRACE responded. She basically said make sure that they are really Christians; they might not even know what that means.

If we were to SIT WITH Mark and ask him, “Are you saying that not sleeping with your boyfriend is required to be justified by God?” he would say, “Of course not, but being a Christian means Jesus is Lord and if a person lives in such willing disregard of Jesus, I question if they are genuinely saved.”

When MOST CHRISTIANS hear Mark compare sexually active Christians to meat eating vegans, WE GET what he mean; it is “CODED SPEECH” – it communicates something beyond what he said.

But there are TWO huge PROBLEMS with coded speech:

1. It does not communicate with outsiders.

We tell NON-CHRISTIANS that we are saved by God’s GRACE and through faith in Christ, not doing what’s right. We say that you don’t need to get cleaned up to take a BATH.

We can say those things a HUNDRED times, but then we say things like “VEGANS eating steak,” and we may have UNDONE it all. What we communicate is that being a CHRISTIAN means NOT having SEX outside of marriage.

* MANY, if not most, non-Christians believe being a Christian means “BEING GOOD” or HAVING FAITH.

EG: “A WALK to REMEMBER” though Christianity was about faith, not grace.

Q How many non-Christians understand the CORE of Christianity is being FORGIVEN and ACCEPTED by God apart from our worthiness?

After speeding a whole chapter on SEXUAL ETHICS, C. S. Lewis wrote, “This is not the CENTER of Christian morality, If anyone thinks that Christians think that unchastity is the supreme vice, he is quite wrong.”

* The center of Christianity is CHRIST CRUCIFIED.

We must be CAREFUL to COMMUNICATE to non-Christians the main thing as the main thing.


I am very concerned that we are giving non-Christians the IMPRESSION that being a Christian is all about NOT SINNING.

* This may be a major reason we are accused of HYPOCRISY.

Q How can we change that?

When you talk to non-Christians, talk about JUSTIFICATION as much or more than SANCTIFICATION. “But I don’t talk to non-Christians about either!” Yes you do:

S: Talking about POSITIVE CHANGES in your life.

J: Talk about God’s FORGIVENESS of your failures.

S: Talking about CONVICTION to do what is right.

J: Talking about God’s ACCEPTANCE.

S: Express FRUSTRATION at the SIN in the world.

J: Talk about GOD’S DESIRE to HEAL this world.

I’m NOT saying “Don’t speak about sin and HOLINESS,” I’m saying, “Make sure you talk a lot about God’s GRACE, MERCY, and LOVE.”

Q Based on how you talk, do your NON-CHRISTIAN FRIENDS think CHRISTIANITY is about being forgiven or being good?

2. We start to believe it.

But I also worry about us: Because we talk so often about the WORKS of the LAW demonstrating that we are really Christians, I fear that something changes in US

* If we keep speaking that way, we START to BELIEVE it.

COUNTLESS CONVERSATIONS with GUILT-RIDDEN CHRISTIANS have convinced me that many of you harbor the belief that you need to LIVE up to a CERTAIN STANDARD for God to LOVE you.

By no means! God LOVES and ACCEPTS you because he is GOOD, because he is love.

Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

I say it again – God’s love is not based on you following the rules, it is NOT CONDITIONAL on your OBEDIENCE.

If you practice what I said earlier about TALKING about JUSTIFICATION as much as SANCTIFICATION, I think it will help you think differently about God’s acceptance.

* So many Christians STRUGGLE with really accepting that God loves and accepts them by grace, not works of the law.

Like many of you, I work so hard to make sure my CHILDREN understand that MY LOVE for them is not based on their BEHAVIOR, so it is with God.


Q But doesn’t being a Christian mean you should be MORE LIKE Jesus?

* Yes, but we are confusing the distinction between the RESULT of Christianity and CHRISTIANITY itself.

Having a BABY is not about changing DIAPERS, that is not why we have babies. The diapers still have to be changed – the natural RESULT of babies is poopie diapers.

* But we do don’t describe parenthood as the state of diaper changing, especially to the terrified newly pregnant couple.

Or as another example, Marilyn and I celebrated our THIRTEENTH ANNIVERSARY this Tuesday. In thirteen years you get to know that other person quite well. But marriage the purpose of marriage is not to ACCUMULATE FACTS about the other person.

The purpose of marriage is “a man will LEAVE his FATHER and MOTHER and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24) and in that process they will get to know each other quite well.


I know that most of you are very AGITATED at this point, with lots of “yeah, but’s.” No, this is not the entire picture.

* I like to say that ERRORS TRAVEL in pairs – every bad believe has an equal and opposite bad belief.

Just as many Christians STRUGGLE with GRACE, many view grace as PERMISSION to SIN. So Paul goes on to say:

Galatians 2:17-20 “If, while we seek to be justified in Christ, it becomes evident that we ourselves are sinners, does that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! 18 If I rebuild what I destroyed, I prove that I am a lawbreaker. 19 For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

In other words, if I use God’s ACCEPTANCE and FORGIVENESS through Christ’s death as an EXCUSE to sin more, that doesn’t mean CHRIST is ENCOURAGING sin, but that my salvation was only “SKIN DEEP,” so to speak.

We leave behind the DEATH and DESTRUCTION of SIN and are FREED to live in the life and happiness of obedience.

* The works of the law go from being RESTRICTIONS to being GUIDES to joy.

The more I see, the more insane that seems: An affair sounds less appealing than dipping my hand in a FRY VAT. Seeing JOY as a MOTIVATION for obedience is a key point of my book.

After a FULL LETTER about justification by grace, not works, Paul ends the letter by describing how JUSTIFICATION should be WORKED OUT in life change:

Galatians 5:19-21 The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

If you live like this, it proves that you have NOT TRULY DIED with Christ. The key phrase is “LIVE like this,” which is a PRESENT, CONTINUOUS VERB – “keep living like this.”

Part of faith in Christ is ALLEGIANCE to him as your LORD as well as Savior, and if you continue to WILLFULLY DEFY him, it becomes doubtful that he is GENUINELY your LORD or SAVIOR.

* Please text “Sunday School Teacher” ; service is almost over

In CONTRAST to that, this is what living with Christ looks like:

Galatians 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Just as the RESULT of having a BABY is changing DIAPERS, so the result of being accepted by God means he changes things on the inside.

And just like the RESULT of being MARRIED means that you know each other better, so justification means that the FRUIT of the SPIRIT flows from you.

* EG: HEIDI and JAMIE and the INS interviews.


But even with that, Paul FINISHES this SECTION with his big idea:

Galatians 2:21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”

You CANNOT be ACCEPTED based on what you DO. Salvation is by grace, not obedience.

The big point of this sermon: Keep the FIRST THING FIRST – we are saved by putting our faith in God’s grace. We are accepted because God is good, not because we are.

* God accepts us NO MORE or LESS after our FAILURES than after our SUCCESS.

Let this be the FIRST THOUGHT, only then followed by thoughts of sanctification. And let that be at the FRONT of our CONVERSATION.

Q & A



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