Monday, October 16, 2017

Win a Copy of "A Small Book About a BIG Problem" by Ed Welch

Ed Welch is one of my greatest mentors in both life and ministry. His teaching, example, writing, and personal interactions have had an outsized influence on me for which I am truly grateful.

Ed understands how people tick. He knows how people feel, think, and behave and why people feel, think, and behave as they do. He even knows how people change. And he's good at talking about it! Ed has a way of boiling down complex ideas of the inner-workings of the human heart and the intersection of the human heart with God's Word into cogent, concise, and relatable language. So when I saw that Ed had written a short book on anger, I jumped at the chance to read it. I wasn't disappointed.

My Biggest Problem With This Book Is a Small One.

First, the critique.

I hate the title. It's accurate because the book is small (the 185 pages are only 4"x6"!) and the problem it talks about is big and affects us all, but you can't tell from the name what the book is actually about. The small print subtitle helps a little: Meditations on Anger, Patience, and Peace. I like the simplicity and color-scheme of the cover, but it also doesn't signal what is inside. Most of Ed's titles are timeless classics--Blame It on the Brain?, Running Scared, Shame Interrupted, When People Are Big and God Is Small, Side by Side--so this one is a bit of a let-down.

The Biggest Strength of This Book Is Not a Small One.

Okay. Glad I got that off my chest. I really don't have any other criticism to offer. This is a great book! The genius of it is how Ed crams 50 pungent meditations into such a small space and at a perfect pace.

Ed hasn't written a bunch of "devotional nuggets" with flowery, mystical, syrupy thoughts. He has distilled the dynamics of human anger and found 50 helpful ways to approach the problem biblically. Reading it is like having a really good conversation with a really good counselor. But a purposeful conversation. Ed doesn't waste time or words to get to the heart of things. For example, Day 41 begins, "If you want to know what you really think about the Lord, watch how you live." And he ends most of the short chapters with a searching question or two for application. It's really powerful stuff.

And it's funny, too. Day 36 begins, "You usually don't want to mess with raccoons, but this one was extreme." You know you want to read that chapter! The humor is often self-deprecatingly disarming and, before you know it, you see yourself (and your own hang-ups) in the mirror.

When I first started reading it, I said this on social media:
This book is small like a "ghost pepper" is small.
I expect that this small book will have big impact in people's lives.

Win Your Own Copy

Starting today, I'm offering a contest to win a copy of A Small Book About a BIG Problem. The good folks at New Growth Press will send a copy to the winner picked at random.

Entering this contest is very simple:

1. Leave a comment on this post (either here or on Facebook) with your name on it.

2. Wait to see if you win. I'll be drawing the names out of a hat. It's that easy! (Don't forget to check back or subscribe to updates to find out if you win--I'll need your mailing address if you do.)

You can also increase your chances of winning by posting about this contest on your social media page (FB, Twitter, Blog, Pinterest, etc.). Just send me an email or leave a comment with the link so that I know that you've expanded the reach of the contest. For each time you link to the contest, you get your name added to the hat one more time (limit of 7 chances, the contest ends at 11:59pm EST on Thursday night, October 19th).

I'll announce the winner on Friday.

Can't Wait Till Friday?

Buy your own copy now. [Amazon, New Growth Press, Westminster Bookstore]

And one for a friend. Ed recently wrote a humorous post about whether or not it is impolite to buy a book on anger for someone else. I thought his answer was not just funny but really loving, too.

Walk Through the Ideas with Ed

Want more?

CCEF is offering an 8 week video series with Ed directly delivered to your inbox.









By the way, Ed's book would make a great companion to David Powlison's Good and Angry which I reviewed last year. They are good friends, and their insights into anger are compatible and mutually support each other. David's writing is more essay-like, expansive and comprehensive. Ed's writing is more staccato and direct.

Thanks to Litfuse Publicty for the review copy of A Small Book About a BIG Problem.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

[Matt's Messages] “Keep in Step with the Spirit”

“Keep in Step with the Spirit”
Galatians: The Truth of the Gospel
October 15, 2017 :: Galatians 5:16-25

Our series is called “The Truth of the Gospel” because that’s what was at stake in Galatia.

Paul had been there and planted churches in that region, and he loved them, and they loved him.

But false teachers had crept into the churches and begun spreading a false gospel which is really no gospel at all.

The false teachers were saying that to be justified, to be righteous before God on the last day, a person must observe the Mosaic Law and rely on observing the Mosaic Law.

And that’s a false gospel. That’s not how it works.

So Paul has sounded the alarm and has systematically dismantled this false gospel and urged the Galatians to stick with the truth of the gospel of grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

Does that sound familiar? I hope so because I don’t have time to go back and preach the first four and a half chapters again to you this morning!

In chapter 5, which is where we are now, Paul has brought it all to a climax and reminded the Galatians that it was for freedom that Christ had set them free so they shouldn’t go back to a yoke of slavery to the Law.

But also that they shouldn’t use this freedom to indulge their flesh, their sinful nature.

Jesus has brought us freedom from sin, not freedom to sin.

He has called us to be free to serve others in love.

Apparently, these Galatians were having trouble getting along with each other. Paul says in verse 15 that they were “biting and devouring each other.”

That’s not what our freedom in Christ is for.

Our freedom in Christ is given to us so that we can love our neighbors as ourselves.

We are set free from the Law so that we can fulfill the Law!

But how do we do that?

Where does the power come from to do that?

Kevin told us last week. 

When he took us John chapter 14.

When he told us about Jesus’ promise of the gift of the Holy Spirit.

And what a difference the Holy Spirit makes in our lives!

The Holy Spirit is the power source for the Christian life.

The Holy Spirit is the dynamo that makes it all possible.

Paul reminded the Galatians in chapter 3 that they had received the Holy Spirit by faith. Now he tells them to “Keep in Step with the Spirit.”

That’s what he says in the very last line of our passage for today. Galatians 5:16-25.

“Keep in Step with the Spirit.”

This passage of scripture is full of good news.

This passage of holy scripture is just overflowing with good news for Christians like you and me.

Often, when I read it, I don’t feel it that way. I don’t recognize that.

When I read about the flesh and its works, it seems so powerful and ugly.

And even when I read about the beautiful fruit of the Spirit in verses 22 and 23, I am reminded how far short I fall in reflecting that fruit right now.

I can read this passage and feel condemned.

But as I read it carefully this week, I saw how Paul was urging the Galatians to keep in step with the Holy Spirit because Paul was sure that the Holy Spirit was going to powerfully work within them.

This passage is just brimming with good news.

Let me give it to you in 3 points.

#1. THE SPIRIT WILL WIN HIS FIGHT.

Look again at verses 16 through 18 and notice the fighting words.

“So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.  For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.  But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.”

Here’s the truth: There is a war going on between the sinful nature and the Spirit.  And this war rages across the hearts of Christians.

Now, we know who the Holy Spirit is. Kevin told us about Him last week.

Who is the “sinful nature?”  Or if you have the King James or the ESV, “The flesh.”

Who is that? Not “The Flash.” “The Flesh.” Who is that?

The “flesh” is the Old You. It’s your old way of life.  Pre-Christian. What’s left-over of your old sinful self now that you have become a believer in Jesus Christ.

It’s not just your bodily cravings. It’s all of your old spiritual passions and desires.

Everybody’s got one of these sinful natures. Not just unbelievers.

Remember when we learned the phrase, simul justus et peccator?  That’s from Martin Luther who taught that Christians are simultaneously righteous ones and sinners. We are declared righteous in Christ (justified) and given a new heart when we came to faith in Christ (regenerated), but our new hearts are not yet perfected (glorified) and sin still dwells within us.

Yes! The Holy Spirit dwells within us, and yet, so does sin!

Now, let me ask you a question...

How do you think the Holy Spirit feels about living in the same residence as the Sinful Nature?

Do they want the same things? No they don’t. V.17

“For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature.”

So what do we have? We have a fight going on.

The Spirit and the Sinful Nature (v.17), “are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.”

Now, we all feel this, don’t we?

Don’t you often feel like there is a battle going on inside of you?

I want to be holy, but I don’t want to be holy. Right?
I want to be pure, but I don’t want to be pure.
I want to speak the truth, but I also want to tell lies.
I want to be a man of peace, but I also want to fight.
I want to be content, but I also want to be gluttonous.

You know how that feels, don’t you?

Well, I have two pieces of good news for you.

Number One.  Praise the Lord! It’s a good thing that there is a war inside of you.  Because it’s HIS War! If there was no battle, then you might have to wonder if you had the Holy Spirit inside of you at all!

You know, I’m not very worried about folks who come to me and confess terrible struggles with sin and the battle that they feel all the time to gain some victory.

You know whom I am worried about?

I’m much more worried about people I see who have just given in to sin and aren’t struggling with it very much. Or who aren’t even aware of their indwelling sin because they don’t yet have the Spirit within them to start the warfare!

So, praise the Lord for the war within.

And secondly, Praise the Lord! The victory is sure! Because this is His Fight, we know how it’s going to ultimately turn out.

Who's going to win the “cage-match” of your Soul? The Sinful Nature or the Holy Spirit?

Not “what does it feel like sometimes!”

Even the Apostle Paul felt sometimes like the Flesh was going to win (remember what he said Romans 7!).

But Who do you really think is ultimately going to win this battle?

My money is on the Spirit. Any fight that the Holy Spirit seriously takes up is NO CONTEST.

That’s why Paul says to live by Him. V.16 again.

“So I say, live by the Spirit, and you WILL NOT (guaranteed) gratify the desires of the sinful nature.”

Literally, it says to “walk by the Spirit.”

I think that means that the Spirit provides the direction and the empowerment for the Christian life.

To walk is to live in a certain direction, and Christians walk by the Spirit.

He provides both the direction and the power to move.

And if we’re walking by the Spirit, the flesh simply will not win.

Isn’t that good news?

And look at verse 18!

Paul says, “I know it feels like you can’t do what you want to do.” “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.”

And that’s what Christians are. They are those who are led by the Holy Spirit.

They are guided through life by the Spirit.

The word “if” there in verse 18 could be translated, “since.”

“SINCE you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.”

You’re under grace! We’ve heard this before, haven’t we?

You’re released from the law because of the Spirit.

You don’t NEED the Law! You’ve got something more powerful uat work inside of you doing battle with the Flesh, and Who will win.

The Spirit will win His fight.

Do you need to hear that today?

I know it’s frustrating that there is war going on in your heart.

And it seems like it will never end.

It starts every morning when you get up, right?

It’s relentless.

And willpower alone doesn’t cut it.

But the Spirit will win His fight.

He Who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion for the day of Christ Jesus.

You’re a Christian! So you are led by the Spirit. You are not under Law.

Walk by the Spirit, and you WILL NOT gratify the desires of the flesh.

Isn’t that good news?

And what does His “winning” look like?

What does it look like when the Holy Spirit wins that fight?

It looks like...fruit.

#2. THE SPIRIT WILL PRODUCE HIS FRUIT.

V.19 “The acts of the sinful nature [the deeds that the sinful nature produces] are obvious [obviously sinful, that is]: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 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.”

As usual, Paul starts with the bad news.

If you live like verses 19-21, then you can have no assurance that you are going to inherit the kingdom of God.

Why?  Because these things come out of the sinful nature and are signs that the sinful nature is all that there is to know about you: sexual immorality (which is sex outside of the covenant of marriage), impurity (not being pure) and debauchery (which is giving yourself fully over to your unholy sexual passions); idolatry and witchcraft (both of those are false worship–of other gods); hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy (those are all relational-type sins); drunkenness, orgies, and the like (which opens these categories up for expansion as we think up new ways to sin and new levels to take sin to).

If that’s what characterizes your life, then it’s pretty obvious what you are living from: the flesh, the sinful nature. And it’s ugly!

And Paul warns us that if that describes us, then we aren’t headed to heaven.

If that’s your lifestyle. If that’s your regular practice. If that’s your pattern of life.

Paul warned them before and he warns them again.

And he warns us, if your life looks like verses 19 through 21, then it’s pretty obvious that you aren’t going to get the kingdom of God.

But catch this!

That’s not what He expects of believers! Paul expects believers to live by the Spirit, to walk by the Spirit, to be led by the Spirit, and embody the fruit of the Spirit.

V.22. Famous words:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

My parents have a plaque with these two verses hanging in their kitchen in Ohio.

When I was growing up on the farm, it hung over the stair steps. I used to just sit on the landing and read that plaque over and over again and commit it to memory.

I didn’t know then that it was in the Bible! But I knew that it was good.

I knew that it was beautiful.

That’s a beautiful list isn’t it?

“Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”

Who wouldn’t want those 9 virtues to describe them?

Well, guess what?

That’s what the Holy Spirit is doing inside of you!

What Paul is saying is that these character qualities are produced by the Holy Spirit when He comes to live inside of us.

This is HIS FRUIT.

“The fruit of the Spirit is...” these things.

Fruit is the product of some process, organically-tied to its source.

Apples are the product of apple-making trees.
Oranges are the product of orange-making trees.
Acorns are the product of acorn-making trees called oaks.

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (and other such things) are the product of a Holy Spirit-making process in our hearts.

They are HIS FRUIT.

And He is going to produce it in us!

Isn’t that wonderful?

The Spirit will produce His fruit in us.

His love, His joy, His peace, His patience, His kindness, His goodness, His faithfulness, His gentleness, His self-control worked into me. Worked into you.

Now, that doesn’t mean that we don’t have any part in it.  It’s not just automatic.

But this fruit doesn’t come from our own self-effort and independent hard work, either.

This is HIS WORK in us.

And our job is simply to repent, trust, and cooperate as He produces it in us.

I’ve made the mistake before of trying to make Galatians 5:22&23 a checklist of character items that I need to achieve. Like levels in a video game.

Of course, I want these verses to be true of me!

They are a beautiful list of character traits that are exemplified by the person of Jesus Christ!

But I can’t just walk up to them and achieve them by myself or with a little help from my friends and then check them off of my list.

Love.  Check.
Joy.  Check.
Peace. Check.
Patience...Patience...Patience...

No, I need the Holy Spirit to create these things in me as I yield to Him. As I keep in step with Him.

And when He does, then I increasingly begin to look like Jesus.

As the Spirit produces His fruit in us, we are increasingly restored to the image of Christ.

And that means that we are increasingly...holy.

This is what holiness is. These 9 things are holiness lived out in someone’s life.

Sometimes, we think that holiness is NOT doing certain things.

“I don’t smoke. I don’t chew. I don’t go with girls that do.”

And forsaking unholy things is a part of holiness. It’s saying NO to verses 19, 20, and 21.

But it’s so much more than that!

Holiness is being a loving person. Putting someone’s needs ahead of your own.

Holiness is being a joyful person. Someone who is filled with a happiness that isn’t tied to their circumstances and how things are going in their life.

Holiness is being a peaceful person.  Someone who isn’t ruffled by the difficulties of life. Not that they ignore them, but their boat isn’t upset by the wind and waves of adversity. They have peace with God, and they are peaceable with others, and they are at peace in themself. That’s holy!

Holiness is having patience. The King James Version translates this “longsuffering.”  What a great description. That’s putting up with someone or something for a long time–longsuffering–without complaining.

When you or I see that in another believer–we’re seeing holiness. His fruit!

Holiness is kindness. Being a person who finds something good to say to someone that will build them up and not tear them down–even when it’s hard to do. There are some really kind people in this church–and it’s holy!

Holiness is goodness. Wholesomeness, moral beauty on the inside where it really counts.

Holiness is faithfulness. Sticking to promises.

Holiness is gentleness or meekness. Strength under control. Strength used for someone else’s good instead of to overpower them. Power with the power to caress.  That’s holy! And it comes from the Holy Spirit.

Holiness is self-control. Being a person who has himself or herself under command.  And that’s holiness!

This is what holiness looks like! And it is the fruit of the Spirit.

And the Spirit is going to produce it in us.

All of it!

This Summer our prayer meeting studied the fruit of the Spirit one piece at time.

And we noted every week that it says the “fruit” of the Spirit (singular) not the “fruits” of the Spirit (plural).

Not like the works of the sinful nature. The fruit of the Spirit.

And we said this Summer that that means that we don’t get to pick and choose.

“I want to be loving but I don’t want to be patient.”

“I want to have joy, but I don’t want to be self-controlled.”

No, you need all of that fruit.

But here’s something even more wonderful. This is really a promise that the Spirit is going to do this in you. He’s going to do this to you.

That’s what the Spirit is doing in you.

It’s His work!

He’s making you beautiful!

He’s making you like Jesus!

His fight in verses 16 through 18 is producing His fruit in verses 22 and 23.

That’s a description of what the Spirit is up to in you.

In you!

And Paul says, “Against such things there is no law.”

Of course that means that it’s not against any law to be loving and joyful and peaceful.

But I think he’s also saying that these things are not produced the Mosaic Law either.

You don’t need a law to produce this kind of living.

You don’t need circumcision.

You need the Spirit!

And guess what?  You have Him!

#3. THE SPIRIT HAS GIVEN US NEW LIFE.

Look at verse 24.

“Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.”

Now, that’s really good news.

Paul is taking us back to our conversion, and he’s tell us what happened then.

“Those who belong to Christ Jesus...” Who’s that?

That’s the people who have put their faith alone in Christ alone, right?

That’s us.

And what did we do when we put our faith alone in Christ alone?

“Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.”

When we repented of our sins and trusted in Jesus Christ, we put a nail into our flesh.

And we started the process of killing it.

I almost got out a hammer and nails and pounded on in up here.

“Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.”

Those are strong words.

What do they remind you of?

Our memory verse right? Our “Hide the Word” verse.

“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.”

Now verse 24 is not saying the exact same thing.

It’s built on that Galatians 2:20. Because of Galatians 2:20 and how I was crucified with Christ, I have crucified my flesh.

And it is dying.

The sinful nature was dethroned at the Cross.

More than dethroned. It was defeated.

Decisively. It has received its death-blow.

Yes, it’s still staggering around.

Living a zombie existence, trying to pretend its in charge, fighting and insurgency to try to regain control.

But it is a defeated enemy.

It’s doomed to lose because it has been crucified with its passions and desires.

It has lost. The flesh has lost.

For whom? V.24

“Those who belong to Christ Jesus...”
Those the Holy Spirit lives inside of.
Those in whom He is producing His fruit.

Those whom He has given new life. V.25

“Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”

We live by the Spirit.
We live by His power.
He has regenerated us.
He has given us a new heart, a new life.

This “live” is not the same word for “live” as in verse 16.

That was “walk.” This is literally, “live.”

“Get your life from.”

We get our life from the Spirit!

And that makes all the difference!

So, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

You see how his logic works?

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

Don’t go back to the Law.
Don’t go back to your old life.
Don’t go back to giving in to the flesh.

Don’t stop fighting the flesh! It’s ultimately crucified. Crucify it again today!

Keep in step with the Spirit.

That’s also a different word from verse 16.

It means to walk, but to walk in line with a leader.

It means that the Holy Spirit is our leader, and we’re supposed to play follow the leader.

It’s basically what we mean by discipleship.

Walking with God the Holy Spirit.

Do you see how this passage is full of good news?

This passage doesn’t say, “Yeah, you better clean up your life. You’ve got a lot of work to do. That stuff about justification by faith? It only goes so far, and then you’ve got to really get to work.”

That’s not what Paul is saying.

Paul is saying that the Holy Spirit is at work in all genuine Christians.

And His work is so much more powerful than what the Law could do.

And so much more beautiful.

And so much more effective.

Yes, there is a battle inside of you, but that’s good news.

Because the Spirit will win His fight in you.
And the Spirit will produce His fruit in you.

Because you belong to Jesus!

You are crucified with Christ.

And you have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

And the Spirit has given you new life.

So...just keep in step with Him!

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Saturday, October 07, 2017

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Sunday, September 24, 2017

[Matt's Messages] “It’s Our (Other) Middle Name!”

“It’s Our (Other) Middle Name!”
Gospel Roots (1892-2017)
September 24, 2017 :: 1 Corinthians 1:2

Now, I don’t plan to yell at you like I did last Sunday.

But that doesn’t mean that I’m not excited about what we’re going to study this week!

I am very much so excited.

Today, we’re going to have our 9th monthly message in the “Gospel Roots” sermon series where we are re-visiting the foundational values of our church family. We have been going back through our 125-year history and surfacing the major, important things that have made us who we are.

So we’ve talked about the gospel–Jesus Christ and Him Crucified. We’ve talked about singing the gospel, taking the gospel to the lost, being a praying church, being a church that stands on the Word of God, being a church that is involved in world missions, a church that loves each other as family, and a church full of servants who know that their labor in Lord is not in vain.

So what is the topic for today?

Here’s the title of our message for today.

“It’s Our (Other) Middle Name!”

A number of years ago, I preached a sermon entitled, “It’s Our Middle Name!” about that hard to spell and almost as hard to read word “evangelical” or “eh-vangelical” depending on who you ask.

That word means “gospel-oriented,” all about the gospel. Because “gospel” is “evangel” in Greek.

And even though it’s hard to spell and even though some people abuse the word, I’ve always been glad that it’s our middle name because it reminds us that we are supposed to be centered on the gospel.

But today, I want to talk about our OTHER middle name.

The middle name that is easy to pronounce and easy to spell and that our church often goes by.

What is it?

Lanse FREE Church!

Why do we call ourselves “free?”

It’s not because we don’t take an offering!

I know somebody who thought that. Because some EFCA churches don’t take an offering during the service, they just have a box in the back for putting your envelope in, this guy thought that “free” meant that you didn’t have to give anything!

And if you are guest here, I hope that’s how feel when you’re here!

But that’s not what we mean by “free.”

And we don’t mean that we are free of “evangelicals.”

There was actually an EFCA church out West that changed their church name because a lot of the people in their community thought that their church name meant there was no gospel there! No evangelicals. No evangel!

That’s not what we mean by “free” either.

The word “free” in our name actually refers to our form of church government.

How we organize and direct our affairs as a church.

How we are structured and ordered and governed.

In that sense, we are “free.”

We are what is called “congregational” which means that we are autonomous or self-governing as a congregation.

We are free of outside control.

Now, there are many different ways to organize a church. There are several popular church structures, called “polities.”

You’ve probably heard of them or even come from a church that practices a different polity than we do. Most of the different polities have some biblical basis to them. Some part of the biblical picture that those church traditions emphasize.

There’s the “episcopal” structure which is kind of “top down” like the Roman Catholic Church or the United Methodists or the Episcopal Church itself. “Episcopal” comes from the Greek for “Oversight,” looking down over, watching over.

And then there’s the “Presbyterian” structure which emphasizes the role of Elders (Greek, presbuteroi) where the elders in a region exercise authority over the local churches in that region.

And there’s other polities out there, too.

But our polity is “congregational” which means, again, that the congregation, the church membership, is self-governing. It’s not top-down. It’s bottom-up. It is “free” from outside control.

Where do we get that?

Well, first, we get that from our history.

Remember in the Spring, when I told you about the Lay Bible Readers Movement in Scandinavia after the Protestant Reformation?

Those Scandinavian believers in Jesus wanted to read the Bible for themselves and asked, “Var står det skrivet?” “Where stands it written?”

Well, we aren’t used to this, but they all belonged to the state-run church which in the case of Scandinavia was the Lutheran church.

If you were born in Sweden, you were baptized as a Lutheran. That’s what you were. If you were Swedish, you were Lutheran. The church and the state were intertwined.

And in many ways, the state told the church what to do.

Well, those believers were studying their Bibles, and they couldn’t find any place that said that the church was supposed to be a part of the government or that the government was supposed to direct the business of the church. “Var står det skrivet?” “Where is that written?”

So they wanted their churches to be...in a word...free.

Especially to read and follow the Bible for themselves.

And when bunches and bunches of those believers came over to the United States in the late 19th century, they started up what they called “Free Churches.” Free, now, of state control.

And free of any outside control, in fact. Including the control of other churches or church leaders.

Does that make sense?

So that’s where our other middle name comes from in our history. But where does free come from in our Bibles?

Well, that’s a little trickier.

I believe it’s in there. I believe in congregationalism! But it’s not the gospel, and it’s certainly not as clear as some of the other doctrines that we believe in here. Church polity is something that genuine believers can have genuine disagreements about.

But I do think it’s in there, and I want to start by looking at 1 Corinthians chapter 1, with you. Yes, that was all an introduction!


I’ll bet you’re wondering what is in here today.

What artifact can stand for our other middle name?

Has anybody ever looked into these old books that sit on top of the history display case in the foyer?

These are the record books of the Swedish Free Church of Lanse.

This one says, “Protokollsbok fir Swenska Friforsamlingen.”

Which Google Translate tells me means, “Minutes of the Swedish Free Church.”

And the first entry is dated February 13, 1892.

When our original 10 members gathered in the home of A.J. Palmquist, they organized themselves and took down these minutes together.

This next book starts in 1905.

The next two are from the 1940's.

This big one is a “Church Register Record and Ministerial Accounts.”

These are the official books that they kept to organize and order themselves as a church

This is a copy of the original constitution of this church. (I know you can’t read it, but you couldn’t read it anyway, it’s in Swedish!)

It says, “Constitution for the Swedish Free Congregation. The Bible shall be the only infallible precept and guide for her faith and conduct. The Assembly (Congregation) belongs (owns it allegiance) to God according to 1 Timothy 3:15...[and they hope that they] may assemble in a manner acceptable to God, he has given Christ to be head over all things to the church (Ephesians 1:22).”

These are our constitution and by-laws today. And Article V of our present constitution says, “This church is, as the name implies, ‘Free’ that is, independent, or self-governing.”

Now, where do we get that?

I have four points to make from one verse today.

#1. THE CHURCH IS PEOPLE.

Look again at what Paul writes in verse 2. “To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy...”

Let me say something really obvious here:

Paul is writing to people.

He is not writing to a building.
He is not writing to an institution.
He is not writing to a campus.
He is not writing a concert or a show of some kind.

Paul is writing to a group of people.

And he calls those people, “the church.”

“To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy...”

Let me say something crazy right now.

You cannot go to church.

It’s impossible!

You cannot go to church.

And...there is no Bible verse that says that you should go to church.

You know why?

Because church is not something you can go to.

Church is something that you are.

Now, we use the language that way, and that’s fine. “Go to church.” We know what we mean? Or do we. Sometimes our use of language can trip us up if we are not careful. The church is not a building. It’s not even a worship experience.

The church is a people.

A holy people. Did you see that in verse 2?

“To those [people] who are sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy.”

That’s Paul’s short definition of a church.

A people group that are made holy (sanctified) by Jesus and called to be holy by Jesus.

I love that it says both of those.

That Jesus both makes us holy and calls us to holiness.

Jesus’ blood washes us clean and makes us holy, and the Spirit of holiness calls our names and beckons for us to live out that holiness in everyday life.

And get this! That’s one of the key reasons for the church. That we would help each other to live holy lives.

Jump over with me to the book of 1 Peter chapter 2. Pew Bible page #1201. Keep a finger in 1 Corinthians, but look at what Peter says about who we are. 1 Peter 2, start in verse 4.

“As you come to him [Jesus], the living Stone–rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him– you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

That’s is absolutely amazing.

Jesus is a called a Living Stone. Which is a contradiction in terms!

Absolute strength (a stone) combined with absolute life (a living stone). Rejected by men at the Cross but chosen by God and precious to Him, and look what that makes us! We are living stones, too, holy building material. Being built into a temple (a spiritual house) and...watch the metaphor change to what you find in a temple...a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God. Not animal sacrifices, spiritual sacrifices, our hearts.

The church is a holy people.

And a holy priesthood.

Martin Luther and the other Protestant Reformers grabbed a hold of this passage and others like it and said that the church was the “priesthood of all believers.”

That was one of their catchphrases in the Reformation.

“The priesthood of all believers.”

That’s amazing!

I almost titled this message, “You are a priest!” Because that’s right. If you’re in Christ. Skip down to verse. 9

Church “...you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

That’s what we are!

That’s what the church is. WE are a royal priesthood.

Isn’t that amazing?

You know what that means? It means that we don’t need another mediator.

Somebody else to stand between us and God.

We don’t need a priest. I am not your priest!

You don’t come to God through Pastor Matt. Praise the Lord!

And I don’t come to God through Pastor Jeff Powell or President Kevin Kompelien. Praise the Lord!

There is now only “one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus...” (1 Timothy 3:15). Not me, not a priest, not a bishop, not the Pope, not Mary. Just Jesus.

The priesthood of all believers.

We are all priests! We are all privileged to come into the presence of God and to intercede for others. We are all called to help each other be holy.

Not just the pastor. All of us.

This church had no pastor when it began in 1892. And it was a church. A bona fide church.

You don’t need a pastor to have a church.

Don’t get any ideas!

You don’t need a building to have a church.

You don’t need a pastor to have a church, but you do need a holy people.

Turn back to 1 Corinthians 1, verse 2.

Point number two.

#2. THE CHURCH IS LOCAL.

Paul writes, “To the church of God in Corinth...”

That’s important.

Paul envisions the church to be a gathered group in a certain location.

The church is not the location, but it is the holy people who are connected to one another and gather with one another in a location.

“To the church of God in Corinth.”
“To the churches in Galatia...”
“To all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi...”
“To the church of the Thessalonians”
“To the holy and faithful brothers in Christ at Colosse...”

“To the church that meets in Lanse, Pennsylvania.”

Do you get the picture?

The church is not just all of the holy people of God.

The church is also a particular group of people who are connected to one another in a certain locality.

What we call “a church family.”

The church is local.

And catch this. The local church is responsible to God for what it does as a church.

As this letter to the Corinthians unfolds, the apostle Paul gives the whole church instructions on how to behave, on what to do, on what to believe, on how to practice their communal life as a church family.

He treats the whole church as responsible for their choices as a church.
I think that’s really important for the case for congregationalism.

Paul doesn’t just write to the church leaders.

He doesn’t just write to the pastor of the Corinthian church. Or even just to the elders.

There are some letters where he does. 1st and 2nd  Timothy, Titus. Sure.

But most of his letters (and most of the other epistles in the New Testament, not just the ones written by Paul) address the whole church and hold the whole church accountable for the choices that the whole church makes.

Think about the book of Galatians that we’re studying right now.

That letter goes to all of the churches in the region of Galatia not just the leaders.

I’m sure those churches had leaders. The top leaders in most of these churches appear to be called “elders” and they are tasked with shepherding and teaching and leading these churches.

But Paul doesn’t just write to them. He goes right to the people.

And he holds them accountable for what the whole church chooses. If the church loses the gospel, it is the church’s fault.

Now, teachers and leaders are held to a higher standard. And they have, perhaps, a deeper accountability because of their roles. But Paul does not by-pass the congregation. He takes his teaching right to them.

And if the whole church has the whole responsibility for its decisions, then it makes sense that the whole church would have the whole authority it needs to make those decisions.

That is the case for congregationalism.

It’s not so much that we have the right to govern our affairs as we have the responsibility to govern ourselves and will be held accountable for how we do it.

In verses 10-13, Paul gives the church a hard time for infighting, quarrels, and division.

They were experiencing church splits over personalities and what leader they identified with.

“Cut it out, church!” Paul says. “I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.”

See how he holds them accountable? No divisions. No superstars! Nobody saying, “I like Pastor Matt. I like Cody Crumrine. I like Bob Gisewhite. No! Pastor Matt didn’t die for this church.”

In Chapter 5, he tells them that they are responsible for exercising church discipline. As a church, they are supposed to put a sexually immoral man outside of church membership. He says (v.4) “When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.”

That wasn’t said to just the leaders. That was said to the whole congregation.

It’s our job together to help each other be holy. And if someone will not be holy, it is our job to put them outside in the hopes that they will be restored.

It’s the same idea as what Jesus said in Matthew 18 with “tell it to the church.”

It’s the church’s job to keep watch over each other to help each other be holy. The first constitution of the church ends by saying, “If any member should now or in the future be such that he does not transport himself according to his profession and honorable calling, in that he yields to any of the fleshly lust as specified in Galatians 5:19-21 and Ephesians 4:25-31, he or she shall be warned and admonished according to the provisions prescribed by the Word of God. (Matthew 18:15-18 and 1 Timothy 5:2).”

The church is local, and the local church is responsible for its choices.

Including what it is taught.

Think about that phrase about “itching ears.” Do you remember it?

It’s 2 Timothy 4. It says, “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction. [Why?] For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.”

Is that happening? You bet.

But did you notice who is responsible?

“They will gather around them a great number of teachers.”

The church is responsible for whom it calls to teach it, for whom it listens to.

So if I teach a false gospel and keep on teaching a false gospel, you are responsible!

And it’s your job to stop me.

The congregation, as a whole, is responsible for choosing its leaders.

Because the church as a whole is responsible for its choices, we believe it’s important  that the church as whole has the authority to make all of the big choices. Now, a church as a whole can’t make all of the choices. But they should be able to make all of the big choices and any of the choices that they consider to be big.

That’s what we mean by congregationalism.

I serve on the Allegheny District Constitutions Board, and I read every governing document of every church that wants to join our association of churches.

And one of my jobs is to make sure that every one of the churches is truly congregational in how they do things.

That the congregation as a whole decides who their pastor is, who their officers are, what their budget is, what will be done with their shared property, and what their constitution and by-laws say. It’s my job to make sure that the congregation is its own highest authority.

And we’re committed to that here.

It’s our middle name!

Now, here’s where membership becomes so important.

Because if it’s the local congregation as a whole that makes the big decisions and is responsible before God for those decisions, how do you know who is the congregation and who isn’t?

And that’s membership.

Some people think that membership is not in the Bible.

I’d say, “It might have looked a little different than it does now in some ways, but there was definitely membership.”

In chapters 12, 13, and 14 of 1 Corinthians, Paul unpacks his body metaphor in the greatest detail.  “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.” Right?

That isn’t just saying that we all have different gifts and that we all need to use them. That’s true and right there. But it’s also saying that we belong to each other in the Body of Christ. Like he said in Romans 12, “...in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”

That’s membership language.

I remember a guy who used to go here to church a long time ago, and I was always trying to work on him to join the membership.

And he’s like, “Why so much about membership? I’ve never been asked to so much to join the church.”

And I said, “It’s biblical! And more than that, it’s the kind of church we are. We are congregational. We need members to help us to make the big decisions. Because we are all going to be held accountable for the decisions we made.”

So, if I’m on you about membership, this is why.

The church is local and the local church is responsible for what the local church does.

#3. THE CHURCH IS GLOBAL.

As much as I believe in congregationalism, in the autonomy of the local church, it must also be tempered with a bigger view of the church universal.

Turn back to chapter 1, verse 2.

“To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ...”

Do you catch that?

The local church is connected to the global church.

The local church may stand on its own, but it is not alone. It’s not supposed to be alone.

“...together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ...”

If Lanse is a church with a small “c,” we must always see ourselves as connected to the Church with a big “C.”

We must stay connected to other churches elsewhere.

They may not have any authority over us, but they are still us. And we are still them.

That’s what the Apostle’s Creed means by saying, “I believe in the holy catholic church” not the Roman Catholic church but the holy universal big C everybody out there who belongs to Jesus Church. Catholic in that sense.

The communion of saints.

We aren’t just out on our own. We are part of something much bigger than spans the globe.

Some people call that "connectionalism."

So we are both congregational and connectional.

The EFCA is an association of autonomous but interdependent churches.

We choose to relate to each other and work together to achieve our mission.

This week, I’m going to a national EFCA thing and a district EFCA thing. I leave tomorrow for Minneapolis for what they call the Missional Summit where I’ll be taking part in meetings of the Spiritual Heritage Committee. Please pray for me.

I’ll be seeing Kevin Kompelien there and we’ll be talking about his visit in a week and half.

At the end of the week, Heather and I are going to the Allegheny District Pastors & Wives Retreat. Thank you for sending us. I’ll see Jeff and Kim Powell there and a bunch of our other district pastors.

I love being connected in a family of churches that work together with a common theology and a common goal.

Our church has always partnered with other churches.

For while, we were an Evangelical Covenant Church. Did you know that?

A lot of people don’t know that. The Evangelical Covenant Church was also Swedish and they sent Swedish preaching pastors to be among us. We owe them a great debt.

One of those old Swedes is still living. Pastor Chuck Anderson. We sent him an invitation to our anniversary.

We have always connected with other churches, because even though the church is local, the church is also global.

And I know that I’m running out of time. Here is point #4.

#4. THE CHURCH IS CHRIST’S.

The church belongs to Jesus. Verse 2 one more time.

“To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ–their Lord and ours.”

The church does not belong to me.

The church does not belong even to the church.

The church belongs to Jesus Christ. He bought it with His blood.

So congregationalism is not democracy. It is not a bunch of citizens all voting to get their way.

Congregationalism (rightly practiced) is a Christocracy. It's is a royal priesthood discerning together what they believe is the will of their Lord for this church body.

Jesus is the head of the church.

Our EFCA Statement of Faith says it this way, “We believe that the true church comprises all who have been justified by God's grace through faith alone in Christ alone. They are united by the Holy Spirit in the body of Christ, of which He is the Head. The true church is manifest in local churches, whose membership should be composed only of believers.” (from Article 7)

The church is a holy people.
The church is local.
The church is global.
And the church belongs to Jesus.

What is your application of today’s message for your life?

I’ve given this list before, but let me just say it quickly.

1. Be a part of the church.

If you have not yet joined the membership, you need to seriously consider it.

It’s biblical, and it’s what kind of a church we are.

We just had a membership seminar with a bunch of young adults at it, and we’re going to have another soon.

2. Do your part in the church.

Take up the mantle of membership. Use your gifts in ministry. It takes the whole church to be the church.

Don’t just GO to church. You can’t go to church!

Be the church!

You’re a body part. Don’t sit out there like some detached body part. Get into the game.

The nominating committee is beginning their work of finding officers for the congregation in 2018. Pray for them and consider how you could be used.

3. Never part from the local church.

You can leave this one. Nobody’s locked into this local church for life.

But don’t try to be a Lone Ranger.

We aren’t meant to go it alone in the Christian life.

We are meant to be a part of the local body of believers and help each other to live Christ-pleasing lives.

Because Jesus is the Head of the Church.

We are NOT free from Jesus!

We belong to Him.


***

Previous Messages in This Series:
01. Jesus Christ and Him Crucified
02. Sing!
03. Lost and Found
04. The Church That Prays Together
05. Where Stands It Written?
06. The People On Your Fridge
07. I'm So Glad I'm A Part


Saturday, September 23, 2017

Sunday, September 17, 2017

[Matt's Messages] "Called To Be Free"

“Called To Be Free”
Galatians: The Truth of the Gospel
September 17, 2017 :: Galatians 5:2-15

We’ve reached the climax of the letter the apostle Paul wrote to the churches in the region of Galatia.

We’ve called this letter a “tornado warning” (after Timothy George).

He has pulled out all of the stops. Paul is really concerned for these people.

Have you felt it as we’ve gone along?

Do you feel how perplexed and vexed and worried and concerned Paul is for these Galatians?

He knows them personally. He brought the gospel of Jesus Christ to them and they received him as a messenger from God.

But now...now they are flirting with a false gospel!

Some trouble-makers, some false teachers, some agitators have infiltrated the Galatian churches and whispered a false gospel in their ears. What is it?

The false brothers have been saying something that sounds good, but really isn’t.

They’ve been saying that believing in Jesus is okay, but to be truly right with God in the end, you need to also take on the Law of Moses.

You need to do the works of the Law to be justified, to be counted righteous before God on the last day.

And, according to the teachers, the next big step in observing the Law is being circumcised.
Were the Galatians circumcised?

No. They were Gentiles. They didn’t grow up with circumcision. They didn’t grow up with the Law like the Jews did.

And these folks have come along like the people in Acts chapter 15 and said, “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” (15:1).

And so the Galatian churches were considering circumcision for their male members.

And word has gotten back to Paul about this, and he’s said, “Oh no! That is NOT the truth of the gospel! I’ve got to write them and warn them that they are in danger.”

And that’s what he’s been doing. Four whole chapters of it.

He’s made various arguments from his own testimony, from his interactions with the apostle Peter, from the Law itself, from the book of Genesis, from the story of Abraham, from the whole-Bible logic of trying and failing to keep the Law versus the paradoxical biblical logic of the Cross. The logic of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

Word by word, Paul has been building his case, trying to show the Galatians how foolish it would be to add law-keeping to the foundation of their justification.

It would be going backwards. It would be like going from Son back to Slave.

And last week, his argument culminated in the clarion call of Galatians chapter 5, verse 1.

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

Those words signal that Paul has reached the “therefore section” of his letter.

You know how Paul normally sets up his letters with deep theology at the beginning and then the implications of that deep theology at the end.

I often call it the “So What” section.

If this is true, then so what difference does it make.

Now, Paul has been saying it all along, but he’s going to lay it on thick from here on out.

This is about freedom! And it’s about not getting ensnared and enslaved once again.

Today, I’m going to read to you verses 2 through 15. And here we come to the strongest words that Paul, perhaps, has ever used.

And he uses them in the service of the gospel.

He uses these strong words in the service of gospel freedom.

In verse 13, he says, “You, my brothers, were called to be free.”

That’s our title for this message, “Called To Be Free.”

And he doesn’t mean “Evangelical Free.”

He means free of the Law, free of Lawkeeping, free from the Law’s authority and the Law’s demands and the Law’s condemnation. Because of Jesus!

We are called to be free.

In my line of work, I end up going to a lot of funerals.

I have led a bunch of funerals, at least 75, and I’ve attended a lot more than that.

What do you want said at your funeral?

When you’re down there in the casket, and the preacher or someone is up here making a speech about you.

You hear a lot of strange things said at funerals.

As someone tries to sum up a life in just a few words.

I often hear someone say, “He was a good man. She was a good woman. He did many good things. He would give you the shirt of his back. God would be wrong if he kept this good citizen out of heaven. She was a very religious person. The church owes her a lot. She did what God said to do. She lived like God said to live. There’s no question where she is today. She’s in a better place because she did good.”

You know what that’s like?

That’s like saying, “I know he’s in heaven today because he was circumcised.”

What do you want said at your funeral? About you and heaven.

Do you want them to say, “He sure did life good. He has surely obligated God to reward him with eternal life. He was a great man!”?

Or do you want them to say, “He trusted in a great Savior!”?

What do you want God to say?

Forget the people at your funeral. What do you want God’s verdict to be on your life?

That’s what Paul is talking about. That’s the stakes here.

Paul is going to issue an incredibly strong warning. He starts with “mark my words.”  “Behold, I Paul say to you.”

He’s using all of that apostolic authority that we learned about back in chapter 1, and he’s using it all right now.

And he’s using it to say in very strong terms what he said in verse 1.

#1. DON’T GO BACK.

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

Don’t go back.

In other words, don’t allow yourselves to be circumcised by these false teachers and begin trusting in your law-keeping for your justification. V.2

“Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all.”

King James, “Christ shall profit you nothing.”

And that’s with God!

If the people at your funeral say, “He was circumcised, that’s what he was trusting in,” if you say to God at your judgment, “I was circumcised, that’s what I was trusting in...” then Christ will be of no value to you at all.

“Oh, oh, oh. I believed in Jesus, too!”

I was a Christian.

I believe He died on the Cross for our sins and all that stuff.

But I had to do my part!

So I got circumcised. And I began to the keep the Law.

Doesn’t that make me right with God?”

“If you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all.”

Not one little bit.

Do you see what’s at stake here?

This is not a little thing.

The false teachers probably said, “snip, snip, no big deal. Now you’re good.”

But Paul says it’s the just the opposite.

Now, is circumcision bad?

No. Paul was circumcised himself, wasn’t he? He’s not against being circumcised.

He’s against taking on the sign of the Old Covenant in your flesh as a sign that you are taking on the Mosaic Law and promising to keep it and trusting in keeping it for your right relationship with God. And telling everybody else that they have to do it, too!

Apparently, they haven’t yet gone this far. At least, as far as Paul has heard.

So he’s trying to stop them from going there. He says that it won’t help them one bit. In fact, it will make their spiritual situation much worse. V.3

“Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law.”

I don’t know if they’re telling you this or not. They might be keeping it from you.

But I’m telling you. If you go this route, you are taking on the whole law, and nobody, but Jesus, has ever been successful at keeping the whole Law.

You are just heaping up condemnation on yourself if you go down this road. And it gets worse. V.4

“You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.”

If you go down this road, then you are cut off. And not just your foreskin.

You are cut off from Jesus Christ.

You will be out of the sphere of grace.

Because you’re choosing Law over grace.

Don’t go there!

Paul would just absolutely hate it if any of the people he loved took that road.

Don’t go there!

I would hate it if this was said at my funeral.

“He was a very religious man, and he was severed from Christ. He fell away from grace.”

“He believed the wrong gospel. He believed the gospel of Jesus plus his good works.”

“He believed that believing in Jesus was not good enough.”

“He had to add to the mix.”

Woe to the one whom that is said at their funeral, or much worse, in the courts of heaven.

“You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.”

Don’t go there!

Instead:

#2. WAIT BY FAITH. V.5

“But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope.”

Isn’t that a glorious sentence?!

Notice how the pronouns change. He changes from “you” those people who are maybe going the wrong direction, to “we” and he gives us the gospel.

“But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope.”

Salvation is by faith, not by works, so that we cannot boast.

Salvation is by faith, our trusting in Jesus’ work on the Cross.

Giving us the righteousness that we need.

Both now in present justification and someday soon in final justification.

I think that’s what he means by “the righteousness for which we hope,” or the “hope of righteousness.”

That could mean the hope that comes from the righteousness we have in Christ. Because that’s a real thing.

But I think it actually means the righteousness, the right standing with God that we will have on that day. The true righteousness and the visible righteousness of Christ that we are will be clothed with on the last day.

We’re waiting for it!

That doesn’t come from our works.

That comes from Jesus’ work on the Cross and the Spirit’s work of faith in our hearts.

“But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope.”

That’s the gospel! That’s how it works!

Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ’s righteousness alone now and forever. V.6

“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”

Notice that he doesn’t say we should boast in being NOT circumcised either.

You can’t trust in your uncircumcision either.

What counts in Christ is FAITH.

Do you have faith?

And is your faith in Christ alone?

Don’t leave here today with that question unsettled.

Here’s what I want said at my funeral, “This man was trusting, not in himself, but in Christ Jesus. This man was eagerly awaiting (not in his own strength but through the Holy Spirit, this man was eagerly awaiting) the righteousness for which he hoped.”

“And his faith expressed itself through love.”

“His faith worked by love.

His faith was the root and love was the fruit.

He didn’t trust in his life of love, but he had one. His love came from his trust in Jesus Christ.”

Paul is going to say more about that in a few more verses.

But he’s got a few more strong words to say. V.7

“You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?”

You were good off the blocks. Why did you let that guy into your lane?

“Who has bewitched you?” Right?

You’ve got stop this false teaching. V.8

“That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. [You were called by grace.] ‘A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.’”

One bad apple ruins the barrel.

You’ve got to stop listening to this false teaching. It’s going to blow up the church!

And then he says this. V.10

“I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion will pay the penalty, whoever he may be.”

That is so encouraging!

Paul believes that the Lord will use his warnings in this letter, to draw these people back from the edge of the cliff.

And those who are pushing them toward the cliff, will fall over it.

No matter who they might have been.

Paul is hopeful, in the Lord, that these dire warnings will be effective.

And he is confident that God will judge the ones making the trouble.

They’ve been lying about him. V.11

“Brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished.”

Apparently, they’ve been saying that Paul is inconsistent on circumcision himself.

The rumor is going around that Paul preaches circumcision, at least for the Jews.

But you can tell by who is being persecuted what gospel they preach.

Paul is not preaching circumcision and Law-keeping for anybody as a means of justifcation.

He is preaching the Cross.

He was preaching the Cross.

And he is preaching the Cross.

And he will continue preaching the Cross.

And the Galatians have to choose. Which will it be?

Circumcision or the Cross?

How do you answer that for yourself?

The Cross is offensive, according to verse 11.

The Cross offends our pride, doesn’t it?

You know what that Cross says about you?

It says you are not a good person.
It says you are a sinner.
You are a rebel.
You are evil-doer.

It says, “This is what you deserve.”

Does that offend you?

It sure doesn’t make you feel good about yourself.

But it’s true!

And the Cross also says, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son [to be crucified on it], that whoever believes in him [faith] shall not perish [shall not be cut off] but have eternal life [the righteousness for which we hope].”

Is that what you choose?

Circumcision makes you feel good about yourself.

You did something!

You added to your salvation.

You did your part.

Jesus did his. You did yours.

The offense, the scandal, of the cross has been abolished.

You did something to help make up for your sin.

What a good person you are!

That’s what circumcision would have done in this situation for these people.

And they had to choose.

What would you choose?

Circumcision or the offense of the Cross?

These bad guys were choosing circumcision and they were teaching that all of the Galatians had to choose it, too, or they weren’t going to be right with God.

They weren’t going to heaven when they died.

They weren’t getting into the kingdom of God without getting circumcised.

And that’s a different gospel.
That’s a false gospel.

And it’s really no gospel at all.

And that makes Paul rip-roaring justifiably mad. V.12

“As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!”

Yes, he said that. And he meant that.

And it was a holy thing for him to say.

“These guys think that kind of cutting is spiritually beneficial and necessary? That’s ridiculous! That’s awful. That’s terrible. They might as well go all the way.”

That’s like the pagan religions that mutilate themselves.

That kind of religion is no better than the pagans.

It is non-Christian, no matter what these people call themselves.

It is anti-gospel.

And it is anti-Christ.

If that is what they will teach, let them be cut off.

Physically and spiritually. Let them be damned.

He doesn’t say that lightly.

That is not a joke.

If it is sarcasm, it is the heaviest and holiest of sarcasm. That which is an imprecation.

That’s how serious this is.

The truth of the gospel is at stake.

True freedom is a stake. V.13

“You, my brothers, were called to be free.”

You weren’t called to be a slave to the Law.

You weren’t called to be a slave to the Law’s demands or the Law’s condemnation.

You, my brothers, were called to be free.

But that freedom is not a freedom from holiness. Or a freedom from love. It’s a freedom TO LOVE. V.13

“You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature [the flesh]; rather, serve one another in love.”

#3. SERVE IN LOVE.

And here Paul turns a corner and begins to run a little bit of a different track from here to the end of the letter.

He’s made his case and he’s made his appeal.

Don’t go back to slavery.
Don’t get circumcised.
Trust in Jesus Christ alone for your justification.
His work on the Cross is more than enough to save you.

You are now free.

But don’t get wrong idea.

Just because you’re free of the Law doesn’t mean that you are free to do just whatever.

It means that you are now free to be holy.

And you are free to love.

You are free to live a life of love.

You are free to serve others in love.

Get that?

You are free to become a slave!

A slave, not of the Law or of sin, but a loving slave to serve other people and put their interests ahead of your own. Get this. Look at verse 14.

“The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

So we end up fulfilling the Law after all.

Not doing the Law, not keeping the Law for our justification, but fulfilling the Law, living out what it was trying to teach us all along.

Love.

Love for God.

And here, love for our neighbors.

We are called to be free.

And we are free to love each other in Christ.

Apparently, they were not doing that very well, either. V.15

“If you keep on biting and devouring each other [like some kind of animals], watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.”

By the way, that’s what trying to be saved by law-keeping will do to a local church.

Legalism will make a church the most toxic, people-destroying place you ever saw.

That’s not the kind of freedom to which we are called.

Gospel freedom is freedom from the Law.
Freedom from sin.

And freedom to serve each other in love.

How are you doing at that?

Next time, Paul will begin to develop this idea of faith working through love.

And walking by the Spirit and how that produces the Spirit’s fruit in us, which is love.

But for today, just ask yourself the question, “How am I doing at serving others in love?”

I have not been set free for selfishness but for service (paraphrasing John Stott).

Whom am I called to serve today?

I would love it if at my funeral, someone would say, “He was a servant.”

Not because I had to be a servant to be justified.

But because I was justified, because I was set free. I had been set free to love.

And people could see it.

Hear the warning in this passage and heed it.

There is only one way of salvation.

And it is not by our works, our human achievement, our religiosity, our goodness.

It is only by faith in Jesus Christ.

Every other way of getting to God will cut you off from God.

And everyone who teaches another way of getting to God pay a steep price.

Trust in Jesus Christ and Him alone to be set free.

And use your freedom to serve others in love.

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Because, brothers and sisters, you have been called to be free.


Messages in this Series:
01. To the Churches in Galatia
02. Turning to a Different Gospel
03. Preaching the Faith He Once Tried to Destroy
04. So the Truth of the Gospel Might Remain With You
05. Acting in Line with the Truth of the Gospel
06. I Live By Faith in the Son of God
07. You Foolish Galatians!
08. You Are All Sons of God Through Faith in Christ Jesus
09. So You Are No Longer a Slave
10. I Plead With You
11. Abraham Had Two Sons

Saturday, September 16, 2017