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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Melville
 Melville, Australia
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Baldivis
 Baldivis, Western Australia
Title:Never leave the gospel behind!
Text:Galatians 3:3 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

2010 Book of Praise.

Bible Translation: NKJV

Psalm 118:1

Psalm 43:3,4

Psalm 32:1,4,5

Hymn 48:2,3

Psalm 130:4

Read:  Genesis 15:1-6; Romans 4; Galatians 3:1-14

Text:  Galatians 3:3

* 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.

It seems as though everywhere you go today there is the pressure to perform.  Whether it is in spelling or in sport, in music or in marathons, at work or even at home, it often feels as though we are on some sort of a trial to see how we are going, how we measure up, how we perform.  We measure ourselves against others, against specific goals and against the demands and expectations that others have.  At times this can be helpful as we try to press on and strive for a goal. But it can also be hard and discouraging.  When we fail to perform, when we fail to meet the standard we or others expect of us, this can make us discouraged, anxious and depressed.  And there are times when most of us will get to a point when we just can not do it anymore.   When the bar is set too high, when whatever energy we had is gone, when we’ve failed to make the grade. 

  Sadly there are times when as Christians we may even feel that way about church and about our walk with the Lord.  Christians can get discouraged.  Discouraged about sin in their lives.  Discouraged about failing to meet the expectations of others.  Discouraged that life is not going the way we had hoped that it would.  And then we may even wonder.  Does God love me?  Does He really care about me?  Will He accept me on the day of His coming?  And then perhaps there is the push to prove ourselves, to try harder, to strive even more.  Until we get to the point that we give up.  We just can not go on anymore.  It is all too hard.

But what is the problem here?  The problem is not that we are simply aiming too high, that we need to lower our standards.  To the contrary, the Lord tells us in His Word, “Be holy because I am holy.”  Nor is the problem that everyone who struggles with doubt, discouragement and sin is really just a hypocrite, that he loves his sin too much to change.  But when depression and discouragement set in because “we can not measure up”, we’ve failed to perform to the standard we’ve been set, what is more likely to be the case is that we are trying to be holy in the wrong way, on the wrong foundation.

In Galatians 3 the apostle Paul cries out to the Galatians 1:1,

“O foolish Galatians!  Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified?”

And verse 3,

“Are you so foolish?  Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?”

What the Galatian Christians were in danger of doing was this:  although they had come to faith believing in the gospel that they were saved by Christ alone, they later began to put this to the side and then were attempting to remain acceptable to God, to remain holy, in their own strength.  They were attempting what we can call a type of “Performance Based Christianity”.  And it is so easy for us to try to do the same!  It can be that while we agree that we have been justified, declared righteous before God by faith alone and in Christ alone, that then we put to this to the side and say, “Now I must move on to my sanctification.  Now I need to work on myself and get my life in order.”

  But there’s the problem!  When we move away from the gospel and go back to trying to do things on our own, by our own strength, it does not work!  Indeed it can not really work.  Our failure to obey is not simply a case of “try harder”, nor is it a simple matter of regaining control over our lives because do not have the strength in and of ourselves to really do it!  But the good news, the Gospel, is this: Having begun your Christian life with God in the power of His Holy Spirit, you may also continue your life with God in the power of the Holy Spirit.  If you began your life in the gospel of “grace alone, by faith alone, in Christ alone”, then you must also continue your life in the gospel.  Not only are we saved by the gospel, we also grow in the gospel.  And that is that is what the Lord teaches us in Galatians chapter 3.

I preach to you the gospel under the following theme:

Never leave the gospel behind!

  1. We are saved by it.
  2. We grow by it.

1. We are saved by it.

It would have been a sobering experience and incredible things to witness.  Just before they entered the Promised Land, Moses called the people of Israel together and he divided the twelve tribes into two groups:  half stood on one mountain, Mount Gerezim, while the others stood the mountain opposite them, Mount Ebal.  And there they received not just words of blessing but also the curse.

“Cursed is the one who makes a carved or molded image, . . . and sets it up in secret.”

“Cursed is the one who treats his father or mother with contempt.”

“Cursed is the one who moves his neighbor’s landmark.”

“Cursed is the one who makes the blind to wander off the road.”

“Cursed is the one who attacks his neighbor secretly.”

And after every curse the people were to say “Amen.”  Amen, it is true.  A person who does these things will be cursed, will be under the divine wrath and judgment of God.  A person who does these things is condemned.  And so these words were to be passed on from generation to generation: cursed are those who do not keep the law of the Lord.

The apostle Paul knew the curses of Mount Ebal: he knew them well.  In 2 Corinthians 11:24 he wrote that,

“From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one.”

And every time he received those 39 lashes across his back, it was required by the Jewish Synagogue manuals that the curses of the law would be read.  And so on five occasions, as he was being whipped, the curses of Mount Ebal would have been read from Deuteronomy 27, curses that ended with the one that Paul quoted in Galatians 3:10,

“Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.”

But what the Jews had failed to understand was that the very words that they were proclaiming over the apostle Paul’s whipped body applied just as much to them!  God requires total obedience to the whole law – and failure to keep even one small part of it places us under His curse, His judgment, His condemnation.  It is common for people to think that God is looking at you with His weighing scales in His hands, measuring the good things you have done compared to the things you have done wrong.  And if you’ve done more good than bad, then you will be saved.  But it does not work like that!  Could you imagine for moment that a policeman pulls you over for not wearing a seatbelt; he pulls out his book to write you a ticket but you put up your hand and say, “Wait a minute!  I might not have been wearing my seatbelt, but I was driving the speed limit, my car is licensed, my car tires are in good condition and I was not speaking on my mobile telephone.  So all things considered, I was doing more things right than wrong.”  What would that policeman say?  Would he put his ticket book away?  No!  It does not work that way.  And nor does it work that way with the law of God.

James 2:10 says,

“For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point he is guilty of all.”

And that is how it is with every single one of us.  “There is none righteous, no not one” Paul wrote in Romans 3:10.  “We all, like sheep, have turned astray” the prophet Isaiah wrote in Isaiah 53:6.  We do not simply deserve the 39 lashes: we deserve the condemnation, the curse of God!  Not only have we broken God’s law in the past, but we continue to do so.  If our salvation was based on our performance, we would all deserve God’s curse. 

But in contrast to this we see the gospel!  In contrast to the dead-end attempt to be accepted by God through keeping the law, we see Jesus!  Jesus Christ, who took the curse upon Himself, who, Paul wrote to the Galatians in chapter 3:1

“. . . was clearly portrayed among you as crucified.”

He was crucified, hung on a cross, suspended between heaven and earth.  The Jews who did not believe could not accept a Saviour who had died on a cross.  The fact that our Lord Jesus Christ was hung on a cross to die was the ultimate proof to the Jews that Christ was cursed by God.  In Deuteronomy 21:22,23 the LORD told His people,

“If a man has committed a sin deserving of death, and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain overnight on the tree, but you shall surely bury him that day, so that you do not defile the land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance; for he who is hanged is accursed of God.”

To hang on a tree was the ultimate punishment.  For the Jews, the people of Israel, to be hung on a cross was evidence that not only was such a person rejected by man but he was rejected by God Himself.  Now perhaps you might think that since hanging was so offensive to the Jews, when the apostles preached the gospel, they would leave this out or put this to the side.  Or else they might try to try to remove this offense by denying that the curse applied to the Lord Jesus Christ: He was, after all, not hung from a tree but nailed to the wood of a tree.  But they did not do this.  They did not shrink from preaching Christ crucified, nor did they deny that Christ had suffered the curse of God.  To the contrary, the apostles preached this boldly and openly!  In Acts 5:30 Peter said to the Jewish leaders,

“The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree.”

And Acts 13:29,

“Now when they had fulfilled all that was written concerning Him (that’s Christ), they took Him down from the tree and laid Him in a tomb.

And 1 Peter 2:24, concerning Christ,

“. . . who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness – by whose stripes you were healed.”

Rather than cover up the fact of the crucifixion, the curse that was placed on our Lord, the apostles preached it!  You see, this is what the gospel is all about!  Christ took the curse that had been shouted from Mount Ebal, Christ took the curse that had been announced over Paul’s bloody and beaten back, Christ took the curse that was to fall on you and on me so that in Him we might be declared righteous.  He became a curse for us so that in Him we might be blessed.  Galatians 3:13,14

“Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”), that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”

The cross might be foolishness to those who do not believe, but for we who do believe it would be utterly foolish to set it aside, for it is through the cross and the cross alone that we are accepted before God, freed from the curse and declared righteous.

But now consider this question:  what had to happen for you to receive Jesus?  How is it that you may benefit from having him as your only Saviour?  What did you have to do first?  Did you first have to “clean yourself up” before you could come to Him?  Did He first expect you to turn your life around, to make yourself presentable before you could come to Him to be saved?  Not at all!  You did not – indeed you could not – begin your Christian walk of life by cleaning yourself up and then reaching out to God!  It was while we were enemies that we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son.  (Romans 5:10)  Your Christian walk did not begin with you taking the first step.  Rather, God took that step, He reached down to you in your sin-filled state and in the mess of this sin-filled life.  He saved us when we could not save ourselves, when we were dead in sin, without God and without hope in this world.  We simply receive this by faith – a faith worked in us by God’s Holy Spirit – and this faith is accounted to us for righteousness.  Romans 4:5 says,

“But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.”

“To Him who does not work” that is, to the one who is not relying on his own performance but believes in His God and Saviour, the One who justifies the ungodly – he is the one who is declared righteous.  That is what the gospel is all about!  When we were dead in sin, slaves to wickedness, God reached out to us.  The gospel was preached, and when we believed the gospel of salvation in Christ alone, God declared us righteous.  And so let us never leave the gospel behind, for we are saved by it.  But not only are we saved by it, we also grow by it.  We will see that further in our second point.


2. We grow by it.

In some ways I have told you nothing new.  For all of you who are Christians and who are members of this church, you have heard this all before.  You have heard that we are saved in Christ alone, that He took the curse upon Himself and that He took His righteousness and gave it to us.  So perhaps you are thinking, “Let’s move on from this.”  But then we must be careful, for in a way we can not move on!  The Gospel is not like some sort of a baseball game where you move from one base, one station, to the next.  You can not leave the gospel behind and then get on to the “real” stuff like Christian living.  The cross is not first base but it is the foundation on which everything else depends! 

  The Judaizers taught that you needed to move on from the gospel.  The Judaizers taught that God accepts you, that He saves you not by Christ alone but by then being obedient to the law of Moses including circumcision.  But then we move away from the gospel, end up leaving it behind as we go to a performance-based Christianity where we set the grace of God to the side to try to work on ourselves, to get our own lives in order.  But we can not do that!  Galatians 3:3 says,

“Are you so foolish?  Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect in the flesh?”

“How did your new life in Christ start?” Paul asks.  Galatians 3:2,

 “This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?”

The Christian life began with them receiving the Holy Spirit.  It was through the Holy Spirit that they believed and it was through the Holy Spirit that they turned from death to life.  But how had they received the Holy Spirit?  By obedience to the law or through the blessing that comes by faith?  If it was by the law that would mean that the Galatians had to do something first in order to earn the Holy Spirit.  In that case the blessings of the Holy Spirit would be God’s reward for what the Galatians had done.  But the Galatians did not have to do anything to receive the Holy Spirit.  He was given to them – they even witnessed special miracles – before the Judaizers had come to tell them to be circumcised, to keep the law.  What that means is that the Holy Spirit is not given to us by God as a reward for what we have done but the Holy Spirit is given to us as we cling to what Christ has done.  Your salvation in Christ, therefore, is granted to you through the work of the Holy Spirit.  We can never, therefore, set the Holy Spirit to the side to try living the Christian life as though He had never been freely given to us in the first place.

And to underline this the apostle Paul then goes on to speak of Abraham himself.  The Judaizers prided themselves in being children of Abraham and insisted that a Gentile could never be counted as a child of Abraham – let alone a child of God – unless he had been circumcised as Abraham was circumcised.  But the apostle Paul cut through this and asked, What about Abraham?  How was he justified, counted as righteous before the LORD?  Was it the matter of being circumcised?  Was it through works of the law?  No!  The Bible says in Genesis 15:6, many years before Abraham was even told to be circumcised that

“. . . Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”  (Galatians 3:6)

Romans 4 explains this further in Romans 4:1-5.

What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.

What the Bible is teaching in Romans 4 and Galatians 3 is that these Judaizers were not only getting the gospel wrong, they were getting the whole Bible wrong!  Justification by faith alone was not something new with the coming of Christ but it was the way of salvation all along!  And that is why the law of circumcision could be fulfilled in Christ and so put to the side, for we are not sons of Abraham through circumcision but through faith.

And for the Galatians, that meant that the Jews had nothing over the Gentiles.  That is why the apostle Paul would say later in Galatians 3:26-29,

“For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.  For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.  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.  And if you are Christ’s then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

And if you are Christ’s then that is all there is to say!  You are saved in Him, you belong to Him and so you now live in Him and must grow in Him.  And that means that there is no such thing as performance-based Christianity.  There is no such thing as “snapping out of it”, of “taking control of your life” or doing anything else outside of your belonging to Jesus Christ and outside of the Holy Spirit who has been given to you.  Belonging to Christ in faith we must then live in Him and through the Holy Spirit who is given to us.

So what does that mean in practice, when we are struggling with sin, when we can not get it all together, when we feel that we are a failure?  Rather than drowning in our misery, keep on going back to the gospel and keep on relying on God’s grace and the Holy Spirit.  One Bible commentator, Philip Ryken, said this:

“At times, things seem rather gloomy and hopeless.  In fact, sometimes they seem altogether impossible, so that we wonder how we can make it through another day.  But this is exactly why we need to preach the gospel to ourselves every day.  As we get out of bed we say, “I know what my real problem is: I am a sinner living in a sinful world.”  Then as we step into the shower we say, “Although I am a great sinner, I have an even greater Savior, who loved me and gave himself for me.”  By breakfast time we are able to make it through the day, trusting in God’s grace alone.”[1]

And then we are not doing it ourselves.  Then we are no longer leaving the gospel behind as if we had to make it on our own.  Then we no longer try to do things out of a pressure to perform but we begin to live in the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit that He gives to us.  And then we become strong as we live and walk in Him. 

  It still happens so easily and so often that as we go through life we leave the gospel behind.  It still happens that we lose sight of the Christ who has been revealed to us as the One who crucified, cursed, hung on a tree for us.  It still happens that we look for strength from within ourselves – and find it missing.  And so must go back to the gospel, back to the preaching of Christ Crucified, the One died and who rose again for us and for salvation.  For it is in Him and in Him alone, through the Holy Spirit given to us that we may go on in the life He has given.  And so never leave the gospel behind, for we are saved by it and we grow by it.  Amen.


[1] Reformed Expository Commentary on Galatians, p92.

* 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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