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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:The gospel is a gift, not a paycheck
Text:Galatians 3:26 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Unclassified
 
Preached:2014-05-18
Added:2014-06-10
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Bible Translation:  NKJV

Book of Praise:  2010 APV

Psalm 23:1

Psalm 19:5,6

Psalm 119:39,40,42

Hymn 48:2,4

Hymn 47:4,5

Read:  Galatians 3:15 – 4:7

Text:  Galatians 3:26

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


Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

You’d better watch out, you’d better not cry, you’d better not pout, I’m telling you why:  Santa Claus is coming to town.

He’s making a list, he’s checking it twice, He’s gonna find out whose naughty or nice; Santa Claus is coming to town.

He sees you when you’re sleeping, He knows if you’re awake; He knows if you’ve been bad or good – so you’d better be good for goodness sake . . .”[1]

Yes, Santa Claus is coming to town!  He does it every year, apparently, on December 25th.  He rides the skies in his chariot, a sleigh with reindeer, he comes down chimneys and he makes his way through closed doors and he gives out his gifts according to whether you are naughty or nice . . .

Have you ever stopped to think about that?  Whatever you may think about the whole commercialization of Christmas and the appropriateness of the gift giving and traditions that go with the day, have you ever thought about the theology that is being taught here?

He’s making a list, he’s checking it twice, He’s gonna find out whose naughty or nice . . .

What is the message in all of this?  What is it that parents are teaching their children? 

“Santa is only going to come, he is only going to give you what you want if you have been good!”

On the one hand this is all intended as a bit of fun; on the other hand the prospect of a Christmas with no presents versus a Christmas with getting what you want is used as both a carrot and a stick to cajole your children to be good, to be nice, to do what you want them to do.  According to this song, Christmas presents are not gifts; they are rewards for good behavior!

Disturbingly, however, the way that people treat and speak about Santa Claus is the way that many treat and speak about God! 

[God] sees you when you’re sleeping, He knows if you’re awake; He knows if you’ve been bad or good – so you’d better be good for goodness sake . . .

God will accept you, many people tend to think, on the basis of who you are, what you are like, and on the good and the bad things that you do.  And that leads to all sorts of thoughts and feelings when it comes to God and your relationship with Him.  It can make you anxious.  It can cause you to be insecure.  It can leave you scared.  It can lead to frustration when “being good” and “doing your best” never seems to be good enough.  It can lead you to despair, or else it can make you proud as you compare your efforts and your life with that of others around you.

And it even leads some people to hate God, to hate His law and to reject the seemingly impossible standards that He has set.  

But God is not Santa Claus and the gospel is not the promise of getting good things on the basis of how well you perform with respect to your obedience to the law.  Rather, as Galatians 3:26 says, you are all sons of God – not on the basis of whether you have been bad or good but – through faith in Christ Jesus.

I preach to you the gospel as we have read it in Galatians 3 and 4 under the following theme:

The gospel is a gift, not a paycheck.

  1. The purpose of the law.
  2. The gift of sonship.

1. The purpose of the law.

Galatians 3:26 gives the answer to the most pressing question that Paul addressed in his letter to the Galatians:  How can you be made right with God and be counted as one of His children? 

  The Galatian Christians had been taught that the way to be made right with God, the way to be justified and so saved was by believing in Jesus Christ and His one sacrifice on the cross.  But then the Judaizers came along, who said, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”  To believe in Jesus was good, they said, but it was not enough!  Believing in Jesus was just the beginning, but after that you still had to go back to obeying the law, that you still had to follow God’s commandments in order to be saved.  “A saving faith”, they would say, “is an obedient faith” because you can only share in the promised grace when you yourself begin to fulfill God’s law.

Now there are some people who suggest that the problem Paul addressed in his letter to the Galatians was simply one of ethnicity.  They say that the issue was this:  the Jews insisted that to be a true child of God you had to be a Jew, a true child of Abraham and to be a true child of Abraham you had to be circumcised and obey the Old Testament laws whereas Paul argued that you could be a child of God without being a Jew and without being circumcised.  But the letter to the Galatians deals with a deeper issue than that.  The question was not simply one of “Do you still have to be circumcised in the New testament?” but the question was “How does God accept you as one of His children?”  And, “What role does the law play in your salvation?”  Are you saved by faith in Jesus Christ alone or are you saved by faith in Jesus Christ plus your ongoing obedience to God’s law?

The answer to this question is clear:  You are not saved and you are not counted as one of God’s children on the basis of whether you have been “naughty or nice”, good or bad, obedient or disobedient.  Rather, we are saved by grace alone through faith alone and in Christ alone.  Neither circumcision nor the laws in the book of Leviticus and not even obedience to the Ten Commandments adds even the smallest part to your salvation.

Now that is a radical teaching!  The Jews did not believe this, nor did the Judaizers in the time of the apostle Paul.  They taught that God will accept you on the basis of how well you keep His laws.  For the Jew, the way to heaven was through your obedience to the law of Moses, the law of God.  Keeping the Ten Commandments was not just the way of life for God’s people: it was, they said, they way to salvation!  That’s why they had their 613 different laws – laws about such things as how far you may walk on the Sabbath day.  These laws were intended to help the Jews keep the 10 Commandments more perfectly so that in this way God could accept them and they could be saved.

    And in fact it is not just the Jews who teach that God saves you because of how you live your life:  almost every false religion offers you a list of laws and rules and regulations to live by so that by keeping those laws you might be blessed and receive that which is promised.  And not only is this the case for false religions: this is still a danger for us today!  For us Christians today, the danger is still there that, like the Galatians, we see Jesus as necessary for the beginning of our Christian life, but that God will continue to accept us on account of our performance during our Christian lives, how well we keep His laws.  You could call this a checklist approach to salvation:  “Am I basically a good person?  Do I attend church regularly and give my contributions to the Lord?  Does it appear as though my family if functioning sufficiently well?  And do I keep away from all kinds of lusts and offensive sins?  If I can say Yes to these and similar questions then God will accept me on the basis of these things that I do.”

But the gospel of salvation is not a paycheck!  Salvation is not a reward for good behavior: it is a gift of God’s grace.  When on the last day you stand before God’s holy throne of judgment the books will not be opened to determine whether you’ve been “naughty or nice” and judged accordingly, but when the books are opened it will be clear that we who are in Christ Jesus are justified in Him!  His righteous acts will be credited to us!  When you, a son of God, stand before the throne on Judgment Day you will be declared righteous not because of your obedience to the law but because of Christ’s obedience and because you belong to Him through faith.  We are justified by faith and not by works of the law.

The Jews could not accept this.  The Jews insisted that God gave His law as the way to life.  “We are Abraham’s seed,” they would say, “and the way that we remain Abraham’s seed is by keeping the law that God gave to Moses 430 years later.”  And it was through obedience to the law, they said, that God would accept them and that in this way they would receive the promise given to Abraham, that they would be sons of God.

But this can not be, the apostle Paul explains in Galatians 3.  It can not be that the law given by Moses would show a different way to be declared righteous than what God told Abraham 430 years earlier.  God never gave His law with the intention that we might be saved through that.  And the reason we can be sure of that, the apostle Paul writes, is because the promise of the gospel was given apart from and before the giving of the law.

In Genesis 15, years before the LORD commanded Abraham to be circumcised, the LORD promised Abraham that he would have as many descendants as the stars in the sky.   And then it says in Genesis 15:6,

“And he [Abram] believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.”

It was Abraham’s faith, Paul writes in Galatians 3, that God counted as righteousness – nothing that Abraham had done, no works of the law.  And at that time God made a covenant with Abraham to seal His promise to him and his descendants.  And God made this promise well before He commanded that Abraham be circumcised, and 430 years before He gave His law to Moses.  And since God can not go back on His Word, since He can He add to it nor take away from it, the way to be declared righteous by God is still by faith, apart from your obedience to the law.

  Therefore when God gave His law through Moses, He did not mean that keeping the law would be the way of salvation.  Galatians 3:21b says,

“For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been given by the law.”

But the law can not save us and it was never God’s intention that the law would save us.  It was God’s plan from the very beginning that He would send a Savior and that it would be through faith in this Saviour, Jesus Christ, that we would be called sons of God.  And so Paul writes further in Galatians 3:16,

“Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made.  He does not say, “And to seeds,” as of many, but as of one, “And to your Seed,” who is Christ.”

What Paul means here is that although the promise was for all of Abraham’s descendants, God’s covenant promises referred to one of Abraham’s descendants in particular: the Lord Jesus Christ.  It would be in Christ, the true Seed or descendant of Abraham that God would fulfill His promises.  It is in Jesus Christ that we are made righteous before God.

But now we have a question:  What then is the purpose of the law?  Why did God give His law and why did God give the 10 Commandments if we are not saved by keeping them?  We do have to keep the law, don’t we?  Isn’t this talk about grace dangerous?  Doesn’t it run the danger that people will say that since we do not obey the law to be saved there is no need to keep it?  That there is no real incentive anymore to do good, to attend church regularly, to give your contributions to the Lord, to keep away from all kinds of lusts and offensive sins?  That we can keep on sinning “that grace may abound”? 

            No, it does not do this.  The law has a purpose. The law was added, Galatians 3:19 says, “because of our transgressions.”  The law does not teach us how good we are, but the law teaches us about our sin!  The law does not teach us that of ourselves we are righteous, but the law teaches us that we are unrighteous.  If we think for a moment that we can be righteous by keeping the law, we have missed the main point of the law for God’s law teaches us that we can not save ourselves, that we need a Savior.  The law of God exposes our sin and it condemns us for our sin.  The law teaches us how great our sins and misery are.  It teaches us that the situation is so bad, so severe, that we can not even begin to clean up our lives, but we need a Saviour, we need Jesus Christ.

The law is our tutor, our school master, bringing us to Christ.  The law keeps us under guard, teaching us about the holiness of God and how we are to live in holiness before Him.  The law convicts us of the depth of our sin and misery so that we understand the need for a Saviour, that we might turn to our Lord Jesus Christ in faith and find in Him all that is needed for our salvation. 

And then, being saved in Christ alone, the law takes on another purpose.  For when we truly believe in Christ and are saved in Him, then our hearts will overflow with joy to our great God and Saviour.  Then we will turn back to God’s law, specifically His Ten Commandments, and we will want to obey them.  Then we will see the law not as a way to be saved, but as the way to live having been saved.  And then God’s law, the 10 Commandments will be a delight!  Then we will no longer be trying to serve God in order to be accepted by Him – let alone to be accepted by others – but we will serve the Lord out of joy because we belong to Him.  We will see this further in our second point.

 

2. The gift of sonship.

There is an enormous difference between keeping God’s law in order to be saved as opposed to keeping His law because we are saved.  For as long as you think or act as though God will accept you on the basis of how well you keep His commandments, the law will be your prison.  You will try to do good, you will try to live up to expectations but it will never be good enough.  And so you either become anxious, not knowing if you will be found to be bad or good, or else you re-write the rules, you will minimize the justice of God and try to convince yourself that you are doing OK.  And at the same time those try to keep God’s law to be accepted by Him will often become highly critical of others who do not seem to live up to their standard of holiness.  And then something else happens also: your relationship with God begins to change.  You no longer see God as a loving Father but He becomes more distant, less personal and you serve Him either out of fear of punishment or else out of a desire for reward.

But when we see the gospel as God’s gift to us because of Christ’s righteousness and not a paycheck on account of our own righteousness, then our relationship with God is changed.  Galatians 3:26 says,

“For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.”

Through faith in Christ Jesus we are God’s sons!  Now some people take offense at the word “sons” and instead insist that we would read “sons and daughters” or “children”.  But Paul uses the masculine word “sons” for a good reason.  In most cultures in the time that the letter to the Galatians was written, the rights of a son were different to the rights of a daughter.  A son could inherit property, and so the word “son” in Galatians 3:26 refers to a “legal heir”, to the one who had full rights in his father’s house.  And so here in Galatians 3:26 the Bible teaches us that we are all sons, we who believe are all legal heirs in the household of God the Father.

By calling us “sons of God”, therefore, the Lord teaches us that the gospel of our salvation is so much more, so much richer than the forgiveness of sins.  Not only has Christ removed the curse for us who believe in Him, but He has also given to us His blessing!  Through Christ God the Father has transferred to each one of us His children the rights and priveleges of a son and an heir.  And that should keep us from being anxious.   That should keep us from a life of despair, a life of worrying about what God is going to do when He finds that we’ve been naughty and not nice, when He sees that we’ve been bad and not good.  The Judaizers taught that while Christ came to forgive sins, all He did was wipe the slate clean so that now it is up to us to obey the law so that God will love us and accept us.  But Galatians 4:4,5 teaches us that

“. . . God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive adoption as sons.”

And, Galatians 4:6,

“. . . because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’”

No longer is God a distant, even frightening, figure, but He is our Abba Father.  When we pray to God, we may come to Him with all the confidence that He loves us and He accepts us through His Son.

And so the gospel changes our relationship with God.  But not only does it change our relationship with God, but it also changes our relationship with one another.  For we are all sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ, and therefore there is no distinction between those who are in Christ Jesus.  Galatians 3:28,

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Although Jews remain Jews, Greeks remain Greeks, males are males and females are females, in Christ we are one.  Since we all have been saved by grace through faith in Christ, not one of us can think that we are greater or more worthy of God’s love, more worthy to be a son, than anyone else.  We are all the same.  We who believe in Christ are all one in Him.

And so brothers and sisters, how is it with you?  Do you know what it means to be a son of God?  Do you know what it means to be a legitimate, adopted child in the household of the Father?  Do you believe that the gospel is a gift and not a paycheck for your own righteousness?  Do you know the freedom that comes from knowing that not only has Christ died for the complete forgiveness of all your sins, but that His righteousness is given to you, to be your own?  Is it now your greatest delight to live as a son and an heir in the household of God?  Do you now have a love for God’s law, for His commandments, and a growing desire to obey His law not to become accepted by God but because you are His child by faith? 

Praise the Lord that our heavenly Father is not like Santa Claus.  Praise the Lord that He’s not making a list and checking it twice, judging us on the basis of whether we – apart from Christ –  are naughty or nice.  Praise the Lord that He has given us His law to point us to the One who fulfilled the law.  Praise the Lord that we are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.  And praise the Lord that He has given us His Holy Spirit so that in Him we might come to the Father and live with Him in true righteousness and holiness.  Amen.

 

[1] Although commonly accepted in many Christian circles, I do not condone the common use of the term “for goodness sake” as it is a euphemism for “For God’s sake”.  In this case I have used it as a) it is a direct quote from a well known Christmas jingle; b) to even say “you’d better be good for God’s sake” is in itself not taking the Lord’s name in vain.  If the reader, using this sermon in a public worship service would prefer, simply delete the words “for goodness sake”.




* 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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