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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Baldivis
 Baldivis, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/baldivis/
 
Title:Act in line with the truth of the Gospel.
Text:Galatians 2:20,21 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Unclassified
 
Preached:2014-03-30
Added:2014-03-31
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

2010 Book of Praise.

Bible Translation: NKJV

Psalm 117

Psalm 143:1,4,5

Psalm 87:1,2,3

Hymn 51:1,2,3

Psalm 87:4,5

 

Read:  Acts 11:1-18; Galatians 2:11-21.

Text:  Galatians 2:20,21

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

What do you think that others are thinking about you?  And what do you think about them?  How much time do you spend thinking, talking, analyzing what others seem to think about you or what you think about others?  And why do most us even care so much about these things?

Most of us care about what people think about us because we want to be accepted.  We want to be accepted and we want to feel included by our friends and class mates at school.  We want to be accepted by our families, by the people we work with and we really want to be accepted by the people we sit together with in church.

But we don’t always feel accepted, we don’t always feel included.  And then at times we might even pull back, stay on the sidelines, avoid getting too close, too involved with others.

Or else, out of fear of what other people might say or think, we go through life as though we are wearing a mask, hiding the real “me”, the “me” that feels insecure, unaccepted or even insignificant.  We wear a mask that we’ve carefully put together to pretend that things are different, that we’ve got it all together, that everything is fine.  And we make choices and we do things to please others and to meet what we think are their expectations of us.

It can be the fear of others that makes us do these things.  It can be the fear of others that makes us feel insecure, not good enough.  It can be the fear of others that makes keep on comparing ourselves to others.  It can be the fear of others that causes us to notice things such as the car that I drive compared to what others are driving.  It can be the fear of others that might lead us to wear the clothes that we wear – either to get noticed or to avoid the gaze of others.

It can also be our rejection of others that causes us to shrink back, to stay on the sidelines, to avoid getting too close, too involved.  It can be our rejection of others that causes us to ignore them, to put them down, to treat them as though they are second rate, that they don’t quite make the grade.

What is causing you to think the way that you think and to act the way that you act?  Why do we care so much about what others might be thinking or saying about us?  Why are we so afraid of others at one time, and filled with pride speak about others with scorn at another time? 

Who are you, anyway?  And who is the person sitting next to you, behind you or in front of you?  Who are you, there on the back row or two in church, and who are you sitting here closer to the front?  How do you see yourself?  And how do you see others?

We read together from Galatians 2 where it says in verse 20,

“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.”

How does that change things?  How does that change who you are?  How does that change who others are?  And how does that change the way you see yourself, your brothers and sisters in Christ and even the rest of the world?

I preach to you God’s Word under the following theme:

Act in line with the truth of the gospel.

  1. Accepted in Christ alone.
  2. Living in Christ alone.

1. Accepted in Christ alone.

The desire to be accepted and the grief that comes with feeling that you’re just not quite good enough to be accepted is nothing new.  It is amazing, therefore, just how longsuffering those Gentiles in the Galatian and other churches must have been!  It is amazing that for years, even more than a generation, they put up with that ungodly division between Jew and Gentile where many Jews failed to fully accept their Gentile brothers and sisters in Christ. 

In the early Church, in those years after Pentecost, there was a division in the church of Christ.  You had Jews, descendants of Israel, and you had Gentiles, those who not Jewish but Greek or from some other nationality.  It was a racial division that ran through the church, but it was more than that.  The Jews were different – and they let the Gentiles know it.  They looked different, they dressed differently, they ate different foods and they even washed their hands differently.  But more than that, many of the Jewish Christians acted as though God loved them more because they were Jews, accepted them as real Christians, the real chosen of God. 

And that was the situation in the Galatian churches as well.   After Paul and Barnabas had preached the gospel to the Galatians, others known as Judaizers had come to those young churches to preach to them what was effectively another gospel that really was no gospel at all.  They taught the people that what Paul had preached was not the truth. Although these Judaizers agreed that you are saved by Christ, they did not agree that you are saved by Christ alone.  Instead they taught that you are saved by Christ plus your obedience to the Old Testament laws.  They said,

“Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”  (Acts 15:1)

In other words, you had to be a Jew.  And if you were not a Jew, a descendant of Israel, by birth, you had to be a proselyte, a God-fearer, who lived like the Jews, followed the customs like the Jews and obeyed all the laws of the Jews.  You had to be a Christian Pharisee.  And if you were not a Jew and if you did not live like a Jew, then you were not seen as a true Christian, you were not fully accepted as a brother or a sister in Christ.  And that is why it is amazing just how longsuffering, how patient those Gentile Christians must have been!  Why did they put up with this?  Why did they remain Christians?  Why did they keep coming to a church where they would see these Jews who were struggling to give them the right hand of fellowship?  Why didn’t they just get up and leave and start a new “Free Gospel Church” on the other side of town? 

That is a question worth thinking about because in our day and age many people simply would not put up with this.  In our day and age it would be more common for the Gentiles to have said, “Forget this, we’re out of here.  If you cannot accept us for who we are, we are going to start up our own church.”  And indeed, although people leave churches and decide to go elsewhere for a variety of reasons, a common reason that is given is “I did not feel comfortable in that church, I was not accepted for who I am.” 

The division between Jew and Gentile was not just a theoretical one, a difference of opinion.  Nor was it just a fringe group, some radical ex-Pharisees who struggled to accept the changes that took place with the influx of Gentiles into the church, who were affected by this division.  The Judaizers had such great influence in the early Christian church that even the apostle Peter was affected by them.  Galatians 2:11-13,

Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; 12 for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. 13 And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy.

That is surprising!  Peter, the Rock, and even Barnabas, the one who had first been sent from Jerusalem to Antioch to strengthen the Gentile believers there, had pulled back from eating and having full fellowship with the Gentiles. 

It was terribly wrong of Peter and Barnabas to cave in to the demands of those Judaizers and stop eating with the Gentiles, but it is understandable that it took some time for the Jews to be fully comfortable eating with their Gentile brothers and sisters.  For a Jew to eat with a Gentile was a big thing.  They had been taught from childhood to stay away from anything that was unclean lest they also become contaminated.  They were most concerned about eating foods that were unclean, animals that had not been killed according to Jewish law and especially food offered to idols.  But more, sitting down and eating with Gentiles meant that you were one with them, there was no difference, you could have full fellowship with them.  How then could a circumcised Jew have such fellowship with an uncircumcised Gentile?

They should have, of course.  And Peter of all people should have been ready to do so.  We read together from Acts chapter 11.  In Acts 10 Peter had received a vision from the Lord in which he saw all kinds of animals.  And he heard a voice saying, “Rise, Peter, kill and eat.”  But Peter answered and said, “Not so, Lord, for I have never eaten anything common or unclean.”  To which the voice spoke to him a second time saying, “What God has cleansed, you must not call common.”  Peter understood the meaning of this vision and so when he called to visit Cornelius, a God-fearing Gentile, he said in Acts 10:28,

“You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or to go to one of another nation.  But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean.”

And then when Cornelius and his household believed, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as He had come upon the disciples on the Day of Pentecost.  And then it says this in Acts 10:45-47.

45 And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. 46 For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God.

Then Peter answered, 47 “Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?

Peter said this because Peter now understood the truth of the Gospel, the same Gospel that Paul preached to the Galatians, that a man is justified not by works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ.  (Galatians 2:16.)  And so at that time he ate with them.  Now word came back to Jerusalem of what Peter had done, how he had eaten with uncircumcised Gentiles, and so they accused him in Acts 11:3 saying,

“You went in to uncircumcised men and ate with them!”

But at that time Peter defended his eating with the Gentiles, telling the Jews what the Lord had revealed to him and how the Holy Spirit Himself had come upon the Gentiles.  And he said in Acts 11:17,

“If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?”

But now in Galatians chapter 2 the apostle Paul points out that later, in Antioch, Peter did withstand God, he did stand in God’s way.  Peter knew what was right, he knew that the Gentiles were saved by faith alone in Christ alone just as the Jews were, but  fearing those who were of the circumcision Peter withdrew himself from the Gentile Christians and stopped eating with them, stopped having fellowship with them.  Peter was being a hypocrite.  He understood the gospel but he was not acting in line with the truth of the Gospel.

If Peter was acting in line with the truth of the gospel he would not have made a distinction between the Jews and the Gentiles, he would not have accepted the one but reject the other.  Peter knew perfectly well that faith in the Lord Jesus Christ was the only way for God to have fellowship with sinners – Jews and Gentiles alike.  But, afraid of the Jewish Christians from what was known as the circumcision party, Peter added circumcision as an extra condition on which he was prepared to have fellowship with others.  Peter was a hypocrite.  By refusing once more to eat with Christians who had not been circumcised, Peter was, in practice, compelling the Gentiles to keep the very law that he had stopped trusting in for his salvation.  And in this way his actions denied the faith that he both believed and preached. 

And that is why the apostle Paul reacted so strongly.  The separation between Jew and Gentile was not just a case of bad manners or rudeness on the part of the Jews.  Rather, when Christians fail to accept one another they are not acting in line with the truth of the Gospel! 

The gospel message is that I am a sinner, I have fallen far short of the glory of God – and there is nothing that I can do about it.  I can not take away my own sin, and I can not make myself more acceptable to God – either before I am saved or after!  But God so loved the world – yes, He so loved me – that He sent His only Son.  And this Jesus has taken my sin upon Himself and in its place He has taken His righteousness and this on me!  He has clothed me with His righteousness so that it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives, who loved me and gave Himself for me.  I am now accepted in Him.

And that is how it is for each one of us who are God’s children.  Yes, for the Jew as well as for the Gentile, for you as well as for me.  And that changes everything!  We can work so hard at trying to prove ourselves, so that we might be recognized for who we are, so that we might be accepted.  And we can be so godless as to look down our nose at others, pushing them to the side, discounting them as though somehow they are not as good or as godly or as loveable as we.  And we can also be so afraid of others, of what they might think, of what they might say or they might do, that we either desperately try meet their approval – or else give it all away because it is all too hard, we can not make the grade.

But what does the Bible say?  What does the Gospel tell us?

“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”

I have been crucified with Christ!  The “me” who is “me” is no longer “me” but is Christ!  The old me is dead! It had to die because I could never save myself.   My performance, my keeping the law, it did not work!  I could never be justified, be made right with God by keeping the law.  And so if I am right before God, it is not because of me.  Whatever it is that I have done and whoever it is that I have become outside of Christ means nothing for my standing before God.  There is nothing in and of myself in which I can boast!  I am dead.  Dead to self but alive in Christ!  It is as though I myself was there hanging on that cross.  It is as though I myself had achieved all the righteousness which Christ accomplished for me on the cross.  And so it is in Christ alone that we can be accepted.

And that changes everything!  If I have been crucified with Christ so that I no longer live, what is there to be proud about?  What is there in you or in me that gives us reason to beat our chest and say “Look at me, I am a somebody!”?  If I am dead then it is nonsense to say that I am better than you.  And then how dare we shun our neighbor, our brother or sister in Christ, the one with whom we sit at the same Lord’s Table together?  A Christian must necessarily be the most humble person on earth because all that we have and all that we are is from Christ alone.

But that also keeps us from being afraid.  It was out of fear that Peter withdrew from the Gentiles and stopped eating with them and it is out of fear that we will often behave in a certain way or say certain things.    It is the fear of others that often causes us to shrink back, to stay on the sidelines.  It is the fear of others that causes us to put on a mask, to act as though we’ve got it all together, that everything is fine.  And it might also be a sense of shame.  A shame for past sin or for present difficulties.  A sense of shame that we can not get it all together, that our lives have been a failure, that our finances are a mess, that our families have fallen apart.

But brothers and sisters, who are you?   What do you believe concerning the truth of the gospel?  What does it mean to be saved by grace alone and in Christ alone? 

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live!”

I am dead – and so are you, and so is everybody else!  Just as Adam and Eve stood before Holy God, shamed and exposed, so would we!  Except for one thing: that Jesus Christ took our place.  That when He died, we died.  That when He came to life, we came to life and that now it is no longer we who live but Christ who lives in us.

That is what we must believe if we are to act in line with the truth of the gospel.  And when we believe this, then we will be humbled.  Then we will accept one another in Christ.  Then we will love them and want to have fellowship with them.  But then also we will not be so concerned about what others might think or say.  For our identity is not to be found in who our friends are or how we accepted by others, but our identity is to be found in Christ alone.

 

2. Living in Christ alone.

Although it is true that we are accepted in Christ alone there is one matter that we need to be careful about.  It is quite common to hear somebody say, “It is not for you to judge me because only God knows my heart.”  But that is not really the point here.  To the contrary, if it is indeed “Christ who lives in me” then that should be evident not just to God but everybody else as well!  A tree is known by its fruits, a saved person is a changed person.  But what it does mean is that how I now live and why I now live the way that I live is changed.

  When the apostle Paul wrote this letter to the Galatians, the Judaizers were teaching that you justified not by faith alone and in Christ alone but by Christ plus circumcision, Christ plus obedience to the law.  The reason for obedience, then, was so that God might accept you, so that on the basis of a combination of Christ’s works and yours you might somehow earn your way into God’s favour, and so deserve your place in heaven.  But legalism does not mean that you live for God!  If you do not live out of the gospel then you are not living for God!  You may be living the most exemplary life and doing the most wonderful things; but you are not doing them for God: you are doing them for man!  You are either doing these things so that God might love you, so that God will accept you or

else you may be doing things out of the pressure to conform.  You live the way that you live for others, to receive their praise, to receive their affirmation, to receive their acceptance.

But if we believe the gospel and if we act in line with the truth of the gospel then we are set free from all of that!

But what now are we set free to do?  Have we been set free to turn back to a life of sin?  Have we been set free so that we might now say “Why should I bother with church, why should I bother with this community, why should I bother with holy life in which I show love to be God and my neighbour?”  Not at all!  It is true that we no longer live in order to be accepted by God.  It is true that we no longer live in order to be accepted by others.  But now the reason to live a new life in Christ is so much greater, so much more powerful.  For now, Galatians 2:20 teaches us, we live for Christ, for “the One and gave Himself for me.”

And that, then, is how we are to live!  Live your lives in line with the truth of the gospel.  Since Christ is now your life you have been set free!  You have been crucified with Christ!  You are as free from the condemnation of God as if you yourself had died there on that cross, as if you yourself had paid that debt.  And if that is the case then we are now loved by God as if we ourselves had lived that perfect life of holiness that only Christ could live.  And so it is not me that lives but Christ.  Though we are sinners, in Christ we have been made righteous.  And that is why we may now live in the way that we live.  As one Bible commentator (Timothy Keller) wrote, “Only when I see myself as completely loved and holy in Christ will I have the power to repent with joy, conquer my fears, and obey the One who did all of this for me.” 

If we were to set aside the grace of God, if we were to see ourselves or one another outside of Christ, then Christ died in vain, then it was all for nothing.  But it was not all for nothing!  Christ did die for something: He died for someone!  He died for me and He died for you, that is, He died for everyone who is joined to Him by a true faith!  And if that is true – and it is! – then let us not turn back to a life of bondage, a life of desperately trying find acceptance in the eyes of God or the eyes of others.  And let us not turn back to a life where we put other people down so that we might think we have reason to look better.  Let us no even reject others because we think they are rejecting us.  But let us be dead to ourselves and find our life in Christ alone, in the One who loved you and gave Himself for you!  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2014, Rev. Stephen 't Hart

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