Kingdom Liberty

Introduction

 

We’ve been progressing through the Chronological Bible this year. We spent a long time in the Old Testament and I feel like we just arrived in the New Testament, and there are only 6 weeks left to wrap up our one-year journey.

The Old Testament had many rules, and until this year it never struck me how much man deserved all those rules. The rules God put in place were to prevent man from self-destructing. In the Garden of Eden, there was only one rule.   Of course, we broke it. There was no need for Ten Commandments when we couldn’t follow One Commandment.

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Soon after, Cain slew Abel. Abel didn’t last very long. He was first mentioned in Genesis 4:2 and by verse 8 he was gone. He only lasted 6 verses. The sanctity of life through the ages is clear in our studies, and God said that Abel’s blood called out to Him from the ground.

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So God gave us more rules to protect us. The Ten Commandments included, “Thou shalt not murder.” And then ten commandments grew into hundreds of rules and laws as we read in the book of Leviticus.

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And then came the New Testament. And many feel that the New Testament rules on top of all the Old Testament rules are overwhelming.

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I used to think that #1 rule for Christians was to attend church every week. You know what I learned after I started going to church every week? The church meets throughout the week, too. Many churches have bible study on Wednesday nights. If you want to be a good Christian, you must go to church on Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday. Sometimes there are bible studies on Tuesdays and Thursdays.   Friday nights often have church sponsored socials, those are mandatory, and don’t forget Saturday evening service.

There never seems to be anything scheduled on Mondays, though. Weird.

And different churches have different rules, so if you want to be saved, you must follow all the rules. If you go to a Pentecostal church, you must speak in tongues. If you go to a Baptist church, no dancing or drinking is allowed. And if you go to a Catholic Church, you can drink and dance but you can’t speak in tongues. It’s complicated, being a devout Christian.

 

Paul & Peter, Gentile & Jew

 

We are in Galatians 2 and we are going to focus on verse 11 following. Paul is in Jerusalem and writing to the church of Galatia and he’s dealing with the “Judaizers”. These were former Jews who claimed now to be Christians, and these Jews wanted the gentiles that converted from Paganism to Christianity to also submit to Jewish law. After all, there are a lot of rules if you want to be a Christian. These Jews were essentially proclaiming a “Jesus Plus Moses” doctrine. Yes, believe in Christ, plus do all these things Moses taught.

I’m going to read verses 11-13 from The Living Bible. Paul is telling the Galatians about a discussion Paul had with Peter at Antioch:

But when Peter came to Antioch I had to oppose him publicly, speaking strongly against what he was doing, for it was very wrong. For when he first arrived, he ate with the Gentile Christians who don’t bother with circumcision and the many other Jewish laws. But afterwards, when some Jewish friends of James came, he wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles anymore because he was afraid of what these Jewish legalists, who insisted that circumcision was necessary for salvation, would say; and then all the other Jewish Christians and even Barnabas became hypocrites too, following Peter’s example, though they certainly knew better.

These “Judaizers,” these “Jesus plus Moses” Jews in the Christian Church were so persuasive that the apostle Peter changed his behavior, then Barnabas, then apparently many others in the church. There are rules for being a Christian, you know. Apparently even who you eat with will determine your salvation!

Paul both confronts Peter and identifies with Pater. After all, they are both Jews by birth and for their entire lives followed Jewish Law. They heard Jesus admonish the Pharisees for all their strict rules and regulations that not even the Pharisees could follow. And both Paul and Peter know that, even if they could follow the Law perfectly – which they could not, nobody can – obedience to the Law would not save them from their sins. Here is Paul’s message to Peter in verses 14-15 –

When I saw what was happening and that they weren’t being honest about what they really believed and weren’t following the truth of the Gospel, I said to Peter in front of all the others, “Though you are a Jew by birth, you have long since discarded the Jewish laws; so why, all of a sudden, are you trying to make these Gentiles obey them? You and I are Jews by birth, not mere Gentile sinners, and yet we Jewish Christians know very well that we cannot become right with God by obeying our Jewish laws but only by faith in Jesus Christ to take away our sins.”

Paul calls Peter a hypocrite because Peter feared men more than he feared God. In the first century the Greek word for hypocrite, “hypokritḗs” was used to describe an actor’s mask. Off stage he was one person, but when he stepped on stage to be seen by others, he would put on a mask and be another person.

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The word for hypocrisy reaches back even further, though, to 400BC. Hippocrates was one of the most influential men in medical history. Doctors today who practice medicine swear in by the Hippocratic Oath.   Hippocrates is famous for practicing medicine in the ancient world under what is now known as the tree of Hippocrates in Kos, Greece.

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The tree is massive, with branches that reach far out. All around the tree there is scaffolding used to uphold its branches.   On the outside we see the structure of the tree but here is the strange thing: the tree is hollow. On the inside, there is no substance. The tree appears healthy, but underneath the surface there is nothing.

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Slide11.JPGThe Apostle Paul is telling us, that those who are hypocritical may have an outward appearance of godliness but inwardly they have hollow faith. They have the structural appearance of being healthy, but they lack the substance.

Peter presented himself as an adopted Gentile to one group and as a Law-keeping Jew to another group. If we are honest, we are all guilty of the same sort of hypocrisy. We present ourselves one way at church but can act another way at work. We sing loud praises to God in Sunday Worship, but as soon as we get in our car after Church and get in Houston traffic, what comes out of our mouth is most certainly not praising God. We read scripture about how to love one another, then we ignore or insult people than annoy us. We believe Jesus loves the whole world, but we refuse to love those who are different than us.

Then Paul tells Peter that the very Jewish Law that Peter is pretending to follow wouldn’t save him anyway. It’s not the Law that saves. Paul says in Galatians 2:16,

“And so we, too, have trusted Jesus Christ, that we might be accepted by God because of faith—and not because we have obeyed the Jewish laws. For no one will ever be saved by obeying them.”

Paul’s argument throughout the book of Galatians can be summarized by this one verse. He tells us repeatedly we are not saved by works, but by faith in Jesus Christ. Remember, there were false teachers in the church in Galatia with the view that they were justified with God because they both believed in Jesus and kept the Law. They were teaching a “Jesus Plus Moses” doctrine so that their works under the Law would give them salvation.

Paul’s emphasis is that we are not declared righteous by keeping the Law. Our level of righteousness in God’s eyes is not upheld by our good works. Instead, our righteousness in God’s eyes is upheld by Jesus’ work: Jesus’ death on the cross for us.

We do not need to uphold the dietary restrictions that the Old Testament prescribes in order to be declared righteous. We will not be deemed unclean if we wear clothes with mixed fabrics as declared in Leviticus 19:19. And even if you boiled a baby goat in its mother’s milk in the past month or so as prohibited by Exodus 23:19, you are still saved.

Remember, this letter was to the Church, to believers. It is a reminder that we cannot earn our way into God’s presence by being at every Bible Study and small group. We do not earn favor with God because we prayed today. We do not earn favor with God because we memorized three Bible verses this week.   We do not even earn favor with God by listening to Christian radio, although KJIC 90.5 Country Christian Radio comes pretty close.

In Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus says,

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’   Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

This is obviously true, because Jesus said it. “Only the one who does the will of my Father.” So is Jesus saying that works can save us? But then the rest of the verse says that even people doing the will of Jesus will be told to leave because Jesus didn’t know them.

What is the will of the Father? It is for all of His children to place their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. He doesn’t ask us to drive out demons.   He just asks us to trust in Jesus. By faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone.

Nothing we do, except for our faith, saves us, and even the faith we have has been given to us.   Two verses in Ephesians 2 makes it clear, verses 4-9,

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.

By faith alone, through Christ alone, by grace alone. It’s all about Jesus and it’s never about what we do or don’t do. God made us alive when we were dead. We have nothing to do with raising ourselves to life.

And that’s exactly what Paul is pointing out to Peter in his letter to the Galatians:

You and I are Jews by birth, not mere Gentile sinners, and yet we Jewish Christians know very well that we cannot become right with God by obeying our Jewish laws but only by faith in Jesus Christ to take away our sins.

What does it take to be saved? Faith alone, and that faith has been given to us by God’s grace. We have been freed from the bondage of performance slavery.   Jesus liberated us from believing that religious practices and rites save us. As a Pharisee and member of the straight-edge religious elite of Judaism Paul knew what it was like to struggle with trying to earn God’s approval with his behavior. He found rest in the Gospel that the only thing that makes us righteous is faith in God. Whether you are a son or daughter with good behavior or bad, nevertheless you are still a son or daughter of God.

 

Misconceptions About Salvation

 

There are many misconceptions about what it means to be saved. As Christians, we probably cause that confusion. We might have heard the phrase “Jesus Plus Nothing” but we have such a hard time practicing it. Let’s discuss a few of them.

      • Ask Jesus into your heart.

Do you have to do this to be saved? I read a testimony from an evangelist who had shared the gospel and told his student he would be saved if he invited Jesus into their heart. But later the student was mad when he found out scripture said Jesus was the only way to God. The student was a follower of eastern religions that believed there were many prophets that could point to God, and to cover his bases, he had invited Jesus into his heart along with all the other prophets. This phrase, “ask Jesus into your heart,” is confusing and incomplete.

It’s usually based on this scripture from Revelation 3:19-20 –

Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

The key to understanding scripture is location, location, location. In this verse, Jesus isn’t speaking to nonbelievers.   These are not instructions on how to be saved. Jesus is speaking to the church of Laodicea, and He is speaking to followers of Christ who already believe. He is instructing believers how to have a closer relationship with Him.

Likewise from Ephesians 3:16-17,

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.

Is this teaching that you must ask Jesus into your heart? Again, Paul is teaching believers here. Christ does indeed dwell in the hearts of believers, but it is a result *of* salvation, not a requirement *for* salvation. “Ask Jesus into your heart” is not anti-biblical, it’s just naturally what happens when you believe. It is the belief, it is the faith through God’s grace, that saves.

      • Be sorry for your sins.

Should we Christians beat ourselves up for all the bad things we did before we became Christian, and to be honest, for all the things we continue to do? Do we have to have regret to be saved? Let’s look at a couple of pieces of scripture. In 2 Corinthians 7:10, Paul says,

Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.

But again, Paul is talking to believers that sin against the Lord. Such Godly sorrow leads one to turn from sin and leaves no regret. In other words, every Christian has a past. So just leave it there. There’s no reason to drag it around with you everywhere you go.

What about non-Christians? Should they feel sorry in order to be saved? This verse says “Godly sorrow.” How in the world are non-believers supposed to have Godly sorrow when they do not have the Holy Spirit inside them? No, feeling sorry for your sins doesn’t save us. If it did, this corrupted version of John 3:16 would read this way–

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever feels really bad about what they’ve done should not perish, but have everlasting life.

That certainly isn’t right. It’s whosoever *believes* in Him. I am saved by faith alone through Christ alone by grace alone.

      • Give up your sins.

This is probably one of the most difficult misconceptions to explain. We just covered a little while ago that bible studies and church attendance doesn’t save us. But what about repenting of our sins? After all, the bible is full of calls to repentance, isn’t it?

“Repentance” is indeed required for salvation. But I’ve discovered that the definition of “repentance” has been distorted through the years. Sometimes we define it as “turning away from evil and toward God.” Those are indeed things Christians should do, but are they required for salvation?

Well, let’s look at the word translated as “repent,” the Greek word is “metanoeō,” and it is defined as “to change one’s mind, to think differently, to reconsider.”

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In other words, change your mind about Jesus. Change your mind about God. That sort of repentance leads to salvation, a trust in faith through Christ that He died for our sins. The gospel of John mentions the word “believe” 85 times in order to be saved without ever mentioning the word “repent” a single time. The word “repent” does not mean “change your behavior,” though that often follows from changing one’s mind first.

So, is giving up our sins a sign we are a believer? If we are a follower of Christ and we are listening to the Holy Spirit dwelling within, repenting of sins is important for spiritual growth.   In this case, we are repenting, we are changing our mind, we are saying, “I am going to stop arguing with God.   I am going to agree with God about my sins,” and then giving up your sins and winning the spiritual battle over the flesh is what we are called to do. But that is after we are saved, not before. Jesus accepts us for who we are, where we are, in all of our filthy clothes. Thank the Lord we don’t have to clean up our act first before we are saved. Jesus cleans up our act after. Romans 5:6-8,

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

We do not have to clean up our act before accepting Christ or to be saved. We are saved through faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone.

      • Pray a prayer.

All we have to do is say the sinner’s prayer and be saved, right?       After all, Romans 10:13 says,

“Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Let me put it this way: Can you say a prayer out loud while silently not placing your faith in Jesus? You’re thinking to yourself, I’m saying this but I’m not going to do it. The prayer itself has no power.

But can you place your faith in Jesus silently, without a prayer? Of course you can. There’s nothing wrong with the prayer itself, but it can lead one to a false sense of security that if they prayed correctly, then they are saved.   It is not the prayer that saves, is it the faith behind the prayer. I am saved through faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone.

      • Give your life to Jesus.

Do you have to give your life to Jesus to be saved?       I can give you one major example of somebody who gave their life to Christ and yet was not saved:       Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Devoting your life to Jesus clearly doesn’t save you.

What does save you?   Acts 16:31,

They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

What all of these misconceptions have in common is that they are works of man. And we know that we can never be good enough, to work hard enough, to assure our place in heaven. How would we ever know it’s been enough? No, to be saved, we have to change our mind about who Jesus is, to place our faith in Christ. By faith alone, through Christ alone, by grace alone. Nothing else.

 

Christ Did It All

 

Let’s turn back to our scripture in Galatians 2 and see what Paul says to Peter next, verse 17-21,

But what if we trust Christ to save us and then find that we are wrong and that we cannot be saved without being circumcised and obeying all the other Jewish laws? Wouldn’t we need to say that faith in Christ had ruined us? God forbid that anyone should dare to think such things about our Lord.   Rather, we are sinners if we start rebuilding the old systems I have been destroying of trying to be saved by keeping Jewish laws, for it was through reading the Scripture that I came to realize that I could never find God’s favor by trying—and failing—to obey the laws. I came to realize that acceptance with God comes by believing in Christ.

I have been crucified with Christ: and I myself no longer live, but Christ lives in me. And the real life I now have within this body is a result of my trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not one of those who treats Christ’s death as meaningless. For if we could be saved by keeping Jewish laws, then there was no need for Christ to die.

What Paul is saying is that we keep trying to add things to Christ in order to be saved.   The Jews were promoting Jesus plus Moses. In effect, they were saying, Yes, Jesus came to fulfill the law, but *we* still have to fulfill the law, too.

That is not trusting in Christ. Paul says that if we could obey the law and be saved, then what was the purpose of Jesus?   What are we putting our trust in?   Our own ability to be good, or the sacrifice of God? Or maybe we’re hedging our bets. Sure, let’s trust in Christ, but to be on the safe side, let’s do all these other things, too. Circumcision, abstain from unclean animals like pork, mixing different types of fabrics in our clothes. Why don’t we obey all of those rules with a “Jesus Plus Moses” attitude?

Perhaps I should ask instead what “Jesus Plus” attitude is still prevalent today. We impose a great many rules for others – not for us, really, rules are for other people. Attending church once, twice, or even three times a week. Or attending church at Christmas and Easter.   Attending bible study. Walking the aisle when giving one’s life to Christ.

Let’s consider baptism. Is it required to be saved? Some Pentecostal churches believe that not only baptism is required, but when you come out of the water, you must speak in tongues. If you don’t speak in tongues, back into the water you go. I suppose this is repeated over and over again like some sort of loving Christian waterboarding.

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Let’s be clear about this distinction: I believe baptism is mandatory for believers. I believe it is a demonstration of our willingness to follow the Lord and it is almost always our first act of obedience… *after* we are saved. It is not a requirement *to* be saved. It is not required for salvation, it *is* required for spiritual growth. If you are Christian and haven’t been baptized, I think it’s time to put aside your resistance, call Jesus Christ your Lord and ask him to lead you to baptism.

But we are not saved by good works. We are saved for good works.

Let’s consider a light bulb. It’s wired up, and when the switch is flipped, it brings light to the room.   If we don’t flip the switch, though, is it still a light bulb? Of course it is. It’s just not a useful lightbulb. And if we have accepted Christ, the Holy Spirit gives us power, and we are asked to shine the light of Christ for others to see. We can refuse and stay dark, but we’re still saved. We’re just not useful.

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But are we saved?   Remember: By faith alone, through Christ alone, by grace alone. There is nothing we can add to that without taking it away from Christ.

 

The Simplicity of Christ

 

I know first-hand that living as a Christian has challenges. I also know those challenges have purposes ordained by God to train me in His way, to increase my faith and trust in Him, to encourage my spiritual gifts to be developed. There are a great many things I must do to grow as a man of God.

But there’s nothing that I must do to be saved. Christ did that for me, because I could not do it for myself. And my response to His sacrifice is to worship and praise a mighty God that loves me enough to die for me so that I may live.

While there are many challenges to living as a Christian, becoming a Christian is the easiest thing in the world. All we have to do is accept what has been done, and our eternal salvation is secure, firmly held in the palm of His hand, sealed by the Holy Spirit, and no one can snatch us out of His hand. It’s not that some of the work has been done for us, or most of the work has been done for us. All of the work has been done for us. We don’t have to say, “Hey, thanks for picking up dinner, let me pay for the tip.”

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There is simplicity in being in Christ. I know, because the bible says so in 2nd Corinthians 11:3,

But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.

The story of the bible is not what we do for God. It is what God has done for us.

 

Conclusion

 

It’s not “Jesus Plus Moses.” It’s not “Jesus Plus Church Attendance.” It’s not “Jesus Plus Feeling Guilty.” It’s not “Jesus Plus Anything.”

It’s just Jesus.   By faith alone, through Christ alone, by grace alone.

That is the simplicity of being in Christ.

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To God be the glory.   Amen.

True Freedom

I. Introduction

We’ve been studying the book of Galatians and the truth of how God loves us, to free us from our bondage to sin. So that no one may boast by works, our salvation is secure through faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone. And I also know we’re supposed to study Galatians 4:8-20, but we’re not going to get that far. We’re only going to cover 3 verses today and stop in verse 10.

II. Galatians 4:8, Slaves to Sin

Today we’re in Galatians 4 beginning in verse 8, and Paul is reminding the Galatians who they once were.

However at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are no gods.

The Galatians were pagan gentiles living in the Roman Empire. They worshipped Roman deities like Apollo the sun god and Venus the goddess of love and beauty. One of the cities in the region of Galatia was Lystra, and there’s a peculiar story about Lystra in Acts 14. In Acts 14:8-10, Paul and Barnabas were preaching the gospel, and Paul spied a man who was lame since birth and had never walked. When Paul realized this man had “faith to be made well,” Paul commanded him to stand up on his feet and walk. And the man got up and walked!

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The crowd around Paul and Barnabas were amazed at this miracle and proclaimed Paul and Barnabas to be Roman gods. Not just any gods, Barnabas was Zeus, the head god, and Paul was Hermes, the fleet-footed messenger of the Gods. And I know those are the Greek names, but that’s because the book of Acts was recorded in Greek. The Roman equivalent were the gods Jupiter and Mercury.

Anyway, I digress, Paul & Barnabas immediately denied they were gods, of course, and gave credit to our Lord in heaven who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. The crowd, of course, nodded their collective heads in understanding and then immediately tried to stone Paul and Barnabas to death.

That is who the Galatians were before they received Christ. Paul reminds them in Galatians 4:8 of their past,

However at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are no gods.

Before the Galatians came to Christ, they were enslaved to demons impersonating deity. The Ten Commandments begin, “I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods before me.” It’s #1 on God’s list.

In the New Testament, Jesus repeats this Commandment #1 in more gentle terms; when asked by a Pharisee which commandment was more important, Jesus says in Mark 12:29,

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”

If we are not free in Christ to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength, then we are in bondage to sin. Jesus puts this bondage to sin even more strongly in John 8:44a,

You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father.

There is only one was to be free of this slavery to sin. By faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone.

III. Galatians 4:9a, Free in Christ

So, now we are free in Christ. Now what? Let’s look at the next verse, or rather the 1st half of the verse, Galatians 4:9a,

But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God,

It’s a curious phrase. Paul is writing to the Galatians, and halfway through his sentence, he corrects himself.

God already knows us, of course. In Matthew 10, Jesus is telling his disciples to spread the good news, and that God Himself will protect them from evil in verses 29-31,

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.

Slide8.JPGGod knows us before we are born, Psalm 139:13-14,

For You formed my inward parts;
You wove me in my mother’s womb.
I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Wonderful are Your works,
And my soul knows it very well.

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So when Paul says, “or rather be known by God,” Paul cannot be saying that God doesn’t know us. I believe Paul is using a phrase to describe our spiritual growth in getting to know God.

Another way to look at it is this: everybody knows there is a god because the universe declares His existence. Psalm 19:1,

The heavens are telling of the glory of God;
And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.

Slide10.JPGAnd we know that as God, he created the heavens and the earth, he is just and punishes the wicked, he is all powerful. But what does God think of me? How do I get to know the love He has for me? Why does He think of me so valuable that He would sacrifice His only son so that I may dwell with Him forever in the House of the Lord? My spiritual walk consists almost entirely of getting to know God intimately, only to discover that God already knows me. So let’s look again at Galatians 4:9a,

But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God,

And now look at it in the original Greek cuz it’s fun,

νῦν δὲ γνόντες θεόν μᾶλλον δὲ γνωσθέντες ὑπὸ θεοῦ πῶς ἐπιστρέφετε πάλιν ἐπὶ τὰ ἀσθενῆ καὶ πτωχὰ στοιχεῖα οἷς πάλιν ἄνωθεν δουλεύειν θέλετε

Yeah, don’t understand it either, it’s Greek to me. But this word shows up twice,

γινώσκω ginṓskō, ghin-oce’-ko; a prolonged form of a primary verb; to “know” (absolutely) in a great variety of applications and with many implications (as follow, with others not thus clearly expressed):—allow, be aware (of), feel, (have) know(-ledge), perceived, be resolved, can speak, be sure, understand.

When Paul says the Galatians are to know God and be known by God, he means to know God intimately. In fact, we are to get to know God so intimately that we know how much God already knows us intimately.

I find it comforting to know that God knows me so well. My struggles, my plans, my history, my health, my thoughts… God already knows them because He loves me. And Paul challenges me to get to know God as well as God already knows me.

IV. Galatians 4:9b, Weak and Worthless Elemental Things

Let’s continue with the rest of Galatians 4:9,

But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? You observe days and months and seasons and years.

When we become Christians, we are free of the penalty of sin. Jesus tells us in John 8:36,

So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.

Slide15.JPGBut what does that mean?

When I last taught from Galatians 2, I spent a lot of time going over what it means to have faith alone in Christ alone by grace alone, and all of the rules we put in place that become obstacles to new believers. Nothing else saves – not church rules, not church attendance, not praying a prayer, not baptism. By faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone.

I was focusing on repentance, and how we are to change our mind about Jesus, in order to have faith, and it is this faith that saves us, and not by our own effort, but because of God’s love. But that lesson focused on how to become a believer and gain salvation.

But what then, once we are believers? I have this little chart that talks about our spiritual growth and the different meanings of salvation:

Phase Justification
(a one time event)
Sanctification
(or progressive sanctification, spiritual walk, a process)
Glorification
(immediately after death or rapture)
Tense Past
(I have been saved)
Present
(I am being saved)
Not sinless, but sinning less.
Future
(I will be saved)
Saved from sin’s: Penalty Power Presence
Scripture Eph 2:8-9; Titus 3:5 Philip 2:12 Rom 5:10

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So last week was all about the justification column. It occurs once for all believers and then that’s in the past. Once saved, we are free of sin’s penalty. For the rest of our temporal lives, we are sanctified, on our spiritual walk, and we are free of sin’s power. And then when we die or are raptured, our heavenly bodies are glorified in Christ and we are free from the very presence of sin.

So this week, let’s talk about that middle section, our spiritual walk. We are free of sin’s power as well as sin’s penalty, but not free from the presence of sin. That comes later in heaven.

So how does that tie into our scripture in Galatians?

But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? You observe days and months and seasons and years.

Sin is all around us, and we can be so easily deceived. Christians are not immune from turning to “weak and worthless elemental things.” Christian superstitions. For instance, I know realtors sometime bury a St. Joseph statue in the yard of a house they’re trying to sell. In fact, when I went looking for an illustration for this, I was astounded to find that you can buy a St. Joseph Home Sale Kit from Walmart for only $13.90. Free shipping, too.

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And this isn’t the only example of Christian superstition – rosary beads, holy water. Have you ever seen a horror movie where the good pious people were saved from a vampire by holding up a wooden cross?

What was happening in the church of Galatia was that these new Christians had started as pagans which mandated observations of certain days such as full moons, spring equinox, summer solstice, and so forth. Once these pagan Galatians had converted to Christianity, though, Jewish Christians convinced the former pagans that they should now follow the Jewish calendar of festivals.

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There are a lot of pagan holidays. Here are some of the holidays for just this month of September 2018 –

1: Celtic Tree Month of Hazel ends (there are thirteen lunar divisions in the Celtric Tree Calendar, Hazel Moon celebrates to “the life force within you.”)
2: Celtic Tree Month of Vine begins (Vine Moon celebrates happiness and wrath and intense emotions)
22: Mabon, the autumn equinox (celebrate gifts of the earth)
24: Full Moon – Harvest Moon (storing your harvest for the winter, and a month of thanksgiving. )
29: Celtic Tree Month of Vine ends
30: Celtic Tree Month of Ivy begins (self-improvement)

But many people do not realize the pagan influences on our Christian culture. The early church began new traditions on the same day as pagan traditions, I suppose to replace them. Instead, they melded in some weird hybrid way.

a: Christmas is probably the most well-known. While we celebrate the birth of Christ at this time, what’s with the tree? Christ wasn’t even born in December since shepherd would not have been in the fields in this month. The Christmas tree’s origins are based on the pagan celebration of Odin the sun god. Yes, that Odin, the father of Thor and Loki. And evergreen trees and mistletoe were decorations honoring Odin. Odin is usually depicted as a big chubby elf with a white beard and flowing coat.

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b) Easter. What’s with the bunnies and the eggs? As a kid, I wondered what kind of bunnies laid eggs. But while Christians celebrate the resurrection of Christ, the date is chosen around the spring equinox and celebrates new life and the end of winter. Not surprising early Christians could connect this with Jesus. Even the word “Easter” has pagan roots, named after a goddess of fertility.

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c) Halloween. The origins of this come from Celtic pagans marking the end of harvest and the beginning of death, spirits roaming the earth and spirits of ancestors returning home. Costumes were created to keep the spirits from recognizing the living.

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What did Paul say again to the Galatians?

But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? You observe days and months and seasons and years.

I think we need to give thought to the holidays we celebrate. The celebrations should be out of love, not obligation. And we should be careful to give God the glory, and not Thor or the Hulk.

V. Still Galatians 4:9b, Do Not Be Enslaved All Over Again

Look, whether one celebrates Christmas or Easter or Halloween or Valentines Day makes no difference to whether one is going to heaven or not. But Paul is telling the Galatians specifically that an obligation to follow a certain ritualist holiday is just like becomes enslaved to sin all over again.

How could that be? What is Paul really saying here? I believe he is saying that, to God, there is no difference between paganism and legalism. Whether one worships other pagan gods or whether one tries to comply with biblical rules makes no difference. Our obedience to the Lord’s commands should be out of love, not obligation or fear or compulsion and slavery to cultural expectations.

I think when we first come to Christ, we find joy and peace and life in Him. But we may also try to cling to our old ways because they’re comforting. We do them because they are tradition, or because we grew up doing it, or because our family or friends or neighbors expect us. And if those are our reasons, we have enslaved ourselves to the culture around us. We are in the world and of the world. You are in the world and of the world. And returning to our old self, our old ways, our old habits, our old sins before we knew Christ is how it’s described in Proverbs 26:11,

Like a dog that returns to its vomit
Is a fool who repeats his folly.

Slide24.JPGI know as we approach each holiday, I’m going to examine my motives. I am not interested in being a slave to the culture around me; I want to be a bondservant of Christ. So here are some of the thoughts I’ve had regarding the holidays – just for me and my household, you make up your own mind:

a) Thanksgiving. I’m still going to enjoy turkey or ham, and still celebrate a season of thanksgiving. But I’ll be sure to thank God for all His provisions. Just being thankful, in and of itself, to me is meaningless. I thank God specifically.

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b) Christmas. I’m still going to celebrate the birth of our Savior. It’s good news! And the lights are pretty, I love driving around and seeing Christmas lights and listening to Christmas music. My wife and I stopped exchanging gifts years ago, though. As she put it, “It’s not my birthday.” If I had kids, I’d probably still give gifts to express love for them. I’m conflicted on the tree, though. If I just like it because it’s pretty, then, sure, let’s have a tree. But considering the pagan roots and how I don’t see how it honors God, am I allowing myself to be enslave to the culture? Do I think people think it’s mandatory I put up a tree because I’m Christian? I want to be sure I’m honoring God with everything.

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c) Easter. There is never going to be a bunny or an Easter egg hunt or goddess of fertility in my future. But celebrating our risen Lord? Is there any better news? In the last few years, though, I’ve stopped calling it Easter and started calling it Resurrection Day.

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d) Halloween. You’ve got to be kidding.

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VI. Conclusion

Whatever you decide, make sure you examine your motives carefully. Make sure that your choice honors God and you aren’t following traditions because it’s an obligation. Don’t be enslaved to rules and regulations.

And whatever you decide – whether to go trick or treating or not, whether to have an Easter egg hunt or not – has no effect on your heavenly destination. But if you do not examine your motives and giving glory and honor to God, then you’re enslaved to culture and the world’s expectations. Your spiritual walk, your progressive sanctification, depends on your examining your motives and aligning yourself to God.

God wants our hearts in everything we do. He wants us to seek Him as He sought us. He wants us to love Him and love others out of love and not obligation. He wants us to be more like Christ because we love Christ and not because it’s a rule in the church.

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Christ came to free us, so let us be free indeed.

To God be the glory. Amen.

Freedom

  I.      Introduction

Two hundred and forty years ago, our nation was in bondage.  Made up of 13 colonies of the British Empire, the colonies were governed by rules from far across the sea.  Twelve years prior to that, the British and the French were in a great race to colonize the Americas, leading to a great amount of tension.  In 1754, the British, under the command of 22-year old George Washington, ambushed a French patrol and set off a war against the French.  There were about 2 million British colonists and only 60,000 French colonists, so the French enlisted the help of the native American Indians.  This French and Indian War lasted 9 years before the British finally defeated the French, and the French ceded control of all of land east of the Mississippi River to the British. Slide2

This was an expensive war, and the British felt the American colonies should pay the brunt of the expenses.  The British levied higher taxes against the 13 colonies to pay off the war debt, and also imposed other rules that were very inconvenient, such as if the British felt the need to guard your town, you were required to house British troops in your home at your own expense.

The colonies had no say in these taxes.  But of particular irritation was the monopoly given to the East Indian Tea Company.  No tea could be imported to the colonies directly; instead, The British imported tea to Britain, marked it up 25% to pay for war debts, then sold it to the Americas.  In 1773, the Sons of Liberty raided a shipment of tea and threw it all into the Boston Harbor with the rallying cry of “No taxation without representation.”Slide3

Three years later, in 1776, the Thirteen American colonies declared their independence from Britain.

II.      Independence

Slide4What does it mean to be independent?  The dictionary defines independence as “freedom from the control, influence, support, or aid of others.”  When the young American Colonies rebelled against the British, they wanted representation, they wanted a say in their own fate.  They wanted to govern themselves.  Others were not going to dictate their day-to-day lives; the colonists were going to choose their own way.

From a historical perspective of developing countries, this was unique.  It had never been tried.  No country had ever attempted self-governing rules.  No country had ever tried a system where the governed were also the governors.

But in the history of mankind, this attitude is hardly unique.  The ultimate authority is the God who created us, and we (the creation) have always wanted to govern ourselves.

It seems like every time I teach a lesson, I go back to Genesis 1:1 again.  But today, in a fantastic improvement over that record, we’re only going back to Genesis 2.  Verses 16 & 17,

And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

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And man joyfully obeyed and enjoyed a sinless and holy relationship with God the Father.  And that lasted maybe a day.  After that, we decided we wanted to govern ourselves, and we ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

III.      Bondage

When we ate, we rebelled.  We looked to our rebellion and said, “See?  We are free to do what we want.  We don’t allow anyone – including God – to tell us what to do.”  We believed that this rebellion was the same as independence which was also the same as freedom.

But these three words are not the same.  Yes, we rebelled and declared our independence from God.  But were we then free?  What did we gain by rebelling from God?

In our rebellion, we decide to go our own way.  In our rebellion, we decided on our own not to follow God’s plan.  Since God is holy, and God’s plan is holy, our rebellion is… unholy.  It is a sin.  Our sin separates us from God.  In the Old Testament, Isaiah laments this rebellion in Isaiah 63:10 –

Yet they rebelled
and grieved his Holy Spirit.
So he turned and became their enemy
and he himself fought against them.

Slide6In other words, our sin nature, passed along from the first rebellion of Adam all the way to us, vexes the Holy Spirit and makes us enemies of God.  In our study of Samuel this summer, Chris taught us about the rejection of God in 1 Samuel 8:6-9 when the people of Israel – people supposedly free since they had rejected God – demanded somebody to rule over them.  It seems they recognized they needed somebody to lead and guide them, but they just didn’t want that somebody to be God –

But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord.  And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.  As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you.  Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.”

Slide7Next week, we will study 1 Samuel 15, and our rebellion is described like this in verse 23 –

For rebellion is like the sin of divination,
and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.

Slide8Our rebellion against the Lord doesn’t lead to freedom.  Our rebellion makes us enemies of the Lord.  We align ourselves with forces that oppose God.  As enemies of the Lord, we become family with a relative we don’t really want, but we share a common goal with him.  John 8:44, Jesus tells us who we are when we are in a state of rebellion –

You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

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Yuck.  I don’t like this family.  So my rebellion against the Lord didn’t lead to freedom, it led to sin.  To oppose God’s plan, I have to align myself with the devil, and I am in bondage to this sin because I am rebellion.  I cannot escape sin because I am in rebellion which is sin.  Instead of freedom, I am in bondage.  I am in bondage to sin.  In John 8:34,

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.

And Romans 7:14-15, Paul recognizes this bondage –

We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.  I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.

We all sin.  We are in bondage to that sin.  We’re going to look at 2 verses that describe just how awful the rebellious bondage to sin looks to our Lord.  First, let’s look at 2 Timothy 3:1-7 –

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days.  People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.  They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.

In that description, I see my own bondage to sin, and I see that our great United States of America has rushed from independence into bondage to sin.  From “loving ourselves” on social media like Instagram and Twitter, to “loving money” and our fascination with pop culture and the lifestyles of the rich and famous.  Allowing men to use women’s restrooms if they “identify” as a woman and then brutally verbally bashing those who are trying to promote a chaste and safe public restroom experience.  Over a half-million abortions in 2016 alone because having a baby is inconvenient.  In my lifetime I’ve seen this nation go from prayer in schools to prosecuting people who pray in schools.  Our national fascination with sex.  Did you know there’s actually a reality show on television called “Love Island” that puts 6 men and 6 women in a house strewn with over 1000 condoms and they compete to see who is the sexiest couple?  And that in order to move up in the rankings, they keep changing partners until they’re considered the winners?  The winners have sex with each other during the show, sometimes being watched by other contestants?  Our nation is in bondage to sin, and we celebrate it and put it on the television for everybody to see.

Romans 6:16 also points out that ultimately we only have 2 choices –

Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?

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Our rebellious sin nature is a trap.  We are stuck in our sin nature and we cannot free ourselves.  Romans 1:24 says that God eventually gives us over to the sinful desires of the heart.  There is no middle ground.  There is no “mostly obedient” state.  Giving to the Red Cross or the Salvation Army or the Star of Hope or tithing to the church cannot save us if there is one little speckle of disobedience in us.  And this verse tells us that we are either trying our very best to find God’s will in our lives, or we are not.

We’d like to believe there is a middle ground, where we can be good people and go to heaven.  We’d like to have compassion on good people that aren’t Christians.  Surely good people go to heaven?  Isn’t that fair?  Isn’t that nice?  Since God is such a nice guy, surely He’d see it my way?

But that misunderstands God’s purpose in our lives.  God loves all His children, and He wants what is best for us.  And that means voluntarily giving up our own independent rebellion and agree with the Lord that His will is the best way, and ultimately is the only way.  And God tells us that there is one way to gain the promised land, and everything else belongs to sin.  Galatians 3:22,

But Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.

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IV.      True Freedom

So our rebellion gives us the illusion of independence, but in reality we are trading our allegiance.  I pledge allegiance to God and His ways, or I pledge allegiance to our father the devil.  There is no third option.

So here’s an interesting quandary.  Can we be in bondage, and yet be free?

We make a mistake when we confuse our independence with what we truly desire.  We desire freedom.  Freedom to follow our God-given passions and desires, to seek for God in all the wonderful places He designs for us, to seek His will and find that His plan for us is far, far better than our own independent plans.

Why should we trust this freedom to God?  How many hairs do you have on your head?   Is it 1000?  100,000?   I have no idea.  But this is how well God knows me: Not only does He know how many hairs are on my head, but he’s numbered them.  1, 2, 3, 4…. Luke 12:6-7,

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.  Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

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A very good reason for trusting the Lord is that He knows me far better than I know myself.  Should I continue to maintain my independence of God?  I certainly have that choice; I can choose to be independent of my creator.  But it turns out that is the same as the sin of rebellion, which means independence from God is bondage to the devil.  Or I can be independent of Satan, and choose to be in bondage to God.  I am in bondage either way.

What does this look like, being in bondage to God?  Do I just follow the Ten Commandments?  Do I just avoid the Seven Deadly Sins?  Do I follow all 613 mitzvots?

Let’s go back for a moment to 2 Timothy 3:1-7 and look at what bondage to sin looks like.

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days.  People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.  They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.

These things that bind us to sin are lovers of ourselves, lovers of money, proud and boastful and abusive and disobedient and ungrateful and unforgiving… and if I am honest with myself, I can see my own sinful nature in this description.  These descriptions of the last days.  It’s what the Father of Lies would call love.  It’s a perversion of what God calls love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 –

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

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I don’t know how to do this.  Not on my own.  At least, not at the level necessary to meet the standards of a Holy and Perfect Lord of All.  I’m going to fail.

So the answer to whether I have to follow the Ten Commandments or avoid the Seven Deadly Sins is… all of them….  And none of them

You see, since God knows how many hairs I have on my head, He knows me better than I know myself.  And even when I try to run, He knows me.  Jeremiah 23:24,

Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?” declares the Lord. “Do not I fill heaven and earth?” declares the Lord.

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God is everywhere I am.  I cannot hide.  Even in my rebellion and my so-called independence, I cannot escape.  The Ten Commandments and the Seven Deadly Sins judge me and my shortcomings.  They show me how I fail, they show that despite my own efforts, I’m going to fail at being holy.  And that’s ok, because God has given me a solution.  God has given me His Son.

We don’t just “stop sinning” by trying to stop committing the Seven Deadly Sins.  Obeying the Ten Commandments doesn’t stop us from sinning.  This is “legalism,” this is “works.”  We stop sinning by recognizing that we are in rebellion, that our entire lives have been devoted to bondage in sin, and remembering that there is no halfway decision, we choose to be bondservants of Christ.  We choose to cease our rebellion against the Lord.

What about the Ten Commandments?  The Seven Deadly Sins?  These give us insight and direction as to what pleases the Lord.  For those who have had children, if your child takes a cookie before dinner after you expressly told him not to, do you say, that’s it, I’m done.  You’re on your own.  Go outside and never come back.  Is our own identity dependent on whether there is an extra cookie in the pantry?

Of course not.  We set rules for good behavior for our children, we discipline them when they are disobedient so we raise them well, we forgive and love them.  God does the same for us, and all our sins are forgiven when Jesus took them to the cross.  We just have to choose to be in God’s family.  Then if we are imperfect, if we only follow eight-and-a-half commandments, our Father still loves us.

So our goal then, is to recognize our rebellion against God did not lead to freedom.  It just led to a different sort of bondage.  This is where we once were, from 2 Peter 2:17-19 –

These people are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them.  For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of the flesh, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error.  They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity – for “people are slaves to whatever has mastered them.”

When we accept Jesus, then this is who we become from 1 John 1:12 –

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name

And when we are children of God, then there is no condemnation for falling short of God’s perfect will.  Romans 8:1,

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.

 

  V.      Conclusion

When mistake rebellion and independence with freedom, we wallow in a lifetime of sin.  The rebellion against God results in death and misery and frustration.  Or we can attempt to save ourselves by doing good, but the rules we set for ourselves are burdensome and joyless.  Worse, we try to set rules for others so we can be better people.  God’s way is to accept that we are powerless on our own and full of sin, but His Son will take the punishment for our rebellion so we can be slaves to righteousness and serve one another in love.  It’s not rules imposed from the outside, but the power of the Holy Spirit from the inside that brings glory to God, peace and joy to us, and blessings to others.

There is a song by Watermark that I love, called “Captivate Us.”  During the chorus, she sings, “Let every chain be broken from me as I’m bound by your grace.”  Choosing to be a bondservant of Christ Jesus doesn’t restrict our freedom, but quite the opposite.  When a train that has fallen off the tracks, it’s powerless, useless, stalled.  When the train is put back on the track, it is free to do what it was created to do.

This is the truth that brings glory to our Father in Heaven.  John 8:32,

Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

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That is true freedom.

To God be the glory.

Hedonism

I. Introduction

Who knows what hedonism is? According to dictionary.com, “the doctrine that pleasure or happiness is the highest good; or, devotion to pleasure as a way of life.” What I found interesting is that when you lookup the word “hedonism” on dictionary.com, you also get advertisements. “Come to Hedonism Resorts of Jamaica! Book Today!” “Enjoy Tampa Bay’s Luxurious Adult Only Resort, Book Today!”

Hedonism is essentially a love of the world and all the things in it. We want the latest iPhone, we want a better car, we want hot stone massages, we want the thickest, juiciest steak, we want to look young forever, we want designer clothing, jewelry, babies, marriage, we want, we want, we want.

What we’re going to study in James 4 is that this spirit of longing has been placed there by our Creator, but the object of our longing is misdirected. Hedonism is rampant in the “keep up with the Jones'” world, but it also exists in Christians. It’s the battle of the flesh we all face, and a battle that we learn to fight as we grow in Christ. We learn that it’s not through our own strength that the successful battle is fought, but learning to trust God and lean on Him and rely on the Holy Spirit to fight the battle.

God wants us to long for Him. Longing for worldly things is the source of trouble and argument and is in opposition to the longing that God wants us to learn.

II. James 4:1-3, The Pleasures of the World

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

I read a story about an argument in an old tribal village. Two men had completely different opinions and they could not resolve their differences. They decided to see the village elder who was very wise and they believed could see through the problem. The first man visited the village elder, told his side of the story, what had happened, and why the other man was wrong. When he finished, the elder said, “You’re absolutely right.”

The next night, the second man visited the village elder and explained his side of the story. When he finished, the village elder said, “You’re absolutely right.” When the second man left, the village elder’s wife said, “What’s wrong with you? Those two men told two completely different stories, and you agreed with both of them. They both can’t be right!” And the village elder said, “You’re absolutely right.”

When did you last have an argument with a friend? What was the cause of the argument? To what source did James trace our tendency to fight with others?

How do our human desires affect our relationship with God?

The first problem with hedonism among Christians is the strife it causes among the church body. According to James, fights break out when selfish pleasures motivate us. The NIV says “your pleasures,” King James says “your lusts,” but the Greek word is ????? (h?don?), the root word for “hedonism,” selfish pleasures. Sometimes, we don’t even realize our own hedonism, but it’s expressed through our frustration in not getting our own way. It may be related to power, prestige, position, dominance, financial gain.

This hedonistic desire is not a one-off event; hedonism describes a lifestyle of living selfishly. The result is that our prayer life suffers. Verse 3 says, “we ask with wrong motives.” The Greek word for “wrong” is usually translated “miserable, to be ill.” It implies a sickly prayer life. When hedonistic attitudes dominate our spirit, we go to God with a sickly attitude and pray for the wrong things.

III. James 4:4-6, Our God is a Jealous God

You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

Our God is a jealous God. The scripture here implies that God himself placed a spirit of envy within us, a deep spiritual longing. Part of growing up in faith is recognizing when our longing is misplaced and focused on worldly, hedonistic things, and repenting, turning from worldly things and turning to a deep spiritual longing for God. Jesus warns us in Matthew 6:19-24 not to store up treasure on earth, for where our treasure is, our heart will be also. We cannot serve two masters. James tells us that God considers this spiritual adultery, trying to love two competing things. Exodus 20:5, “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God.” God created us with the ability to love Him, and gives us the ability to choose to love Him. Our fights and sickly prayers are based on love of the things of this world and not the love for Him. Can we recognize that the worldly things we covet are themselves created by God?

This can be a difficult thing to learn and practice. Whether material things, our health or the health of family, aligning our spirit with God’s spirit takes a lifetime of practice. We will mess up, our own ego will cause us to trip. But God gives grace to us to those that humble themselves before the Lord.

James talks about “friendship with the world.” In reality, most of us have few close friends. What does it take to develop a friendship? (Time, sacrifice). How much time do we spend being friends with the world? How much time do we spend being friends of God? What does it take to become a closer friend?

How would obeying each of these commands lead to a stronger friendship with God?

IV. James 4:7-10, Draw Near to God

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

There are several command in a row – boom, boom, boom – in avoiding the attitude of hedonism. It’s like the Ten Commandments of James, although four of them are closely related.

1. Submit yourselves to God. We must recognize that God alone is worthy of honor and praise. How could we be fooled into offering praise and worship to things? We are urged not just to place our faith in the Lord, but to submit. In other words, do the Lord’s will. Lean and study, then apply.

2. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. If we submit to the Lord and resist the devil, it is an awesome combination. The devil will flee from such opposition.

3. Come near to God and he will come near to you. This involves praise and worship, recognizing God as our only sovereign Lord. As we seek Him, He will make more of Himself known to us.

4. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. The wording here reflects the language of a religious ceremony and reflects the words in Psalm 24-3-4, admonishing us to have clean hands and a pure heart. Notice the words apply to both the outside and the inside. Our hands should not be involved in evil actions and compromises. Sometimes it’s easier to have a pure heart but our hands are dirty doing ungodly things. Perhaps that is why James calls us double-minded when we say one thing but do another. Remember Paul, and how he sang songs in prison because he knew he was doing the Lord’s work? And out of prison, he noted that he did not do what he wanted to do, and did do what he didn’t want to do. And then he cried, “oh what a wretched man I am!”

5. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Perhaps all Christians ought to be miserable. Or perhaps not. In context with the rest of the verse, James is again warning against hedonism. Materialism is fun. Who doesn’t like to shop? Who doesn’t like to have fun? James isn’t telling us to be miserable creatures, but what he is doing us is reminding us that if we are neglecting God and finding sin fun, then we ought to examine ourselves more carefully. If we find ourselves in sin, it’s not a cause for celebration. Jesus paid the price for our sin, and it’s cause for serious contemplation instead.

6. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. When we are prideful, God will cause us to stumble. And when we are humble, God will lift us up. When we believe that on our own that we are good, decent people, we attribute pride to ourselves because alone, we are nothing. It is through grace of our Lord that we are sons and daughters, not through our own actions.

V. James 4:11-12, Do Not Judge Others

Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?

James reminds us that the Word of God is for us to learn and apply to ourselves. We are not the judge of whether a brother or a sister has the proper heart for God, that role is reserved for God and God alone. If I see a brother driving a brand new Corvette, a sister wearing a new pearl necklace, my initial reaction might be hodenistic – I want that. The proper spiritual response is not to covet something worldy, but James warns against going too far in the opposite direction. If I can’t have something, you shouldn’t either.

VI. James 4:13-17, Who’s In Charge of Your Life?

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.

I am particularly guilty of this, and something I’ve struggled with all my life. I go when and where I want to go, and attempt to drag God along behind me. My actions may not have been wrong, but my heart satisfied my own desires, and then I expect prayer and worship to cover my attitude. I spent most of my life living that bumper sticker, “God is my co-pilot.” And then one day, I realized I was sitting in the wrong seat.

We do not know the future. We do not know if God will present an opportunity to us or whether tomorrow holds a catastrophe. Our attitude, though, should be one of seeking the Lord’s will and depending on Him, not one of self-sufficiency.

A hedonistic lifestyle says that we are in charge of our own lifestyle. We make the plans, we execute the plans, we reap the rewards of our own plans. That’s not how God wants us to live. James is asking, who’s in charge of your life? You, or God?

First, we assume too much about the future. James starts verse 13 with “Listen closely.” Pay attention. We do not know the future. We don’t know what will happen in a year, much less tomorrow or even later this afternoon. Verse 13 describes a hypothetical businessman who has made plans a year in the future, and even presumptious enough to claim what he will accomplish.

What is it about human nature that leads us to assume we know more about the future than we actually do? If we knew the Rapture will come tomorrow, how would that change our action today? And yet, that is precisely the way Jesus calls us to live.

When we assume we will live forever, we become lazy about today. We will seek the Lord’s will…. Tomorrow. Not today, I’m busy. Seeking the Lord’s will is not a particular event that we can plan for. Seeking the Lord’s will is a process, a practice.

Verse 14 says that not only do we not know what will happen a year from now, but we don’t even know what will happen tomorrow.

James isn’t advising us to be paranoid about the future. We are to live each day as a child of God, seeking His favor. But we will not live forever. Every year, to me, goes faster and faster. When I was a child, the week before Christmas lasted approximately 3 months, or so it seemed. Now, it seems 3 or 4 years pass in a blink. God is forever, eternal. Our lives on earth are mist. Whoosh. And then we are gone, and the items of hedonism we so cherish on earth are gone, just like us. Where is our eternity? And where should we be storing our treasures?

We are just a mist that appears for a little while. William Beebe was an explorer and American naturalist and a friend of Teddy Roosevelt. He wrote, “After an evening of talk we would go out on the lawn and search the heavens until we found the faint spot of light mist in the constellation Pegasus and one of us would recite: That is the Spiral Galaxy of Andromeda. It is as large as our Milky Way. It is one of a hundred million galaxies. It is 750 thousand light years away. It consists of 100 billion suns – each larger than our sun. After a moment, Col. Roosevelt would grin at me and say, “Now I think we are small enough. Let’s go to bed.”

James also isn’t telling us to make plans for tomorrow or the next day or a year from now. The arrogance is making plans without God. These businessmen in James’ example made their plans without any regard to God’s desires. Embracing God is not an event, it’s a lifestyle.

So how shall we live? James tells us to consider the Lord in everything we do. “If it is the Lord’s will, then I will do this.” In both cases, plans are made. They may even be the same plans. But one is acknowledging the sovereignty of God in our life, the other is claiming the sovereignty of us.

Why is it so hard to acknowledge we do not have control over our own future? Think back on your life when you were a teenager. Did you imagine the life you have now?

Jeremiah 29:11-13, ” For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

VII. Conclusion

A hedonistic lifestyle usurps the authority of God in our life. When we seek pleasure for its own reward, we will find it’s an empty lifestyle. When we seek God’s will in our lives, not just once or twice but as a lifestyle, we will find that joy in the Lord surpasses anything the world can offer. Which will it be? Joy in the world, or joy in the Lord? The choice is ours.

Matthew 6:33, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Let’s enjoy the day the Lord hath made.

Liberty versus Love

Introduction

What is the most common phrase in the entire bible? “Fear Not.”

There is another very common phrase used throughout the bible, it is “one another.” These are instructions on how to get along with … well, one another. “Love on another” is used at least a dozen times in the New Testament.

• James 5:16, “Pray for one another.”
• 1 Thessalonians 5:11, “Edify one another.”
• Romans 12:10, “Prefer one another.”
• 1 Peter 4:9, “hospitality for one another.”
• Ephesians 4:32, “be kind and compassionate to one another.”
• Bee Gees, “Islands in the Stream,” “from one lover to another, ah ha”

Actually, have you ever noticed how almost every love song on pop radio can apply to the love of Jesus? For instance, “Islands in the Stream” goes

Baby, when I met you there was peace unknown
I set out to get you with a fine tooth comb
I was soft inside
There was something going on

You do something to me that I can’t explain
Hold me closer and I feel no pain
Every beat of my heart
We got something going on

I mean, what a beautiful song to God, except for calling him “Baby when I met you.”

Today we’re going to wrap up Galatians 6 instead of singing songs from the Bee Gees and apply this “one other” philosophy. We’ve been talking about how the law helps us grown and obedience to the law exposes us to our sins, but at the same time, we are no longer bound to the law because of the sacrifice of Christ Jesus. In Galatians 6, Paul will summarize this balance between too much law versus too much liberty, and what that means as we relate to others.

Galatians 6:1-5, Bearing Burdens

Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load.

Paul tells us to carry each other’s burden, and provides a hypothetical example of a Christian brother or sister “caught in a sin.” The Greek word Paul uses for “caught” means “to take before” or “to forestall” before he can conceal his crime. It also implies there is an element of surprise.

So, all of Galatians has been to teach us we should balance legalism with liberty. Here, Paul teaches us that it is our responsibility to approach our brothers and sisters who are caught in a sin. But then he cautions us about our attitude when we approach a brother or a sister.

A liberal, anything goes attitude is easy to see as destructive. If somebody else sins, what business is it of mine? That’s up to them and God. Why should I get involved?

• What is wrong with a liberal attitude toward a brother’s sin?
• What is wrong with a legalistic attitude?

Legalism can be far worse than liberalism. A legalistic approach exposes our poor motives, our poor heart, our poor love of Christ. Remember the story in Act 21:27? Legalistic Jews stirred up the crowd and accused Paul of bringing Greeks into the temple and defiling it just because they had seen Paul with a Greek in the city. They tried to kill him over rumors and suspicions that had no basis in fact. Or what about the Pharisees who dragged the adulterous woman before Jesus? Did the Pharisees care about the adulterous woman?

The Pharisees exposed the adulterous woman for their own selfish purposes. They wanted to exalt themselves by stoning the woman. They wanted to make themselves look good by making somebody else look bad. The spiritual man should restore the sinner gently. The Greek word for “restore” is also used for mending a net or for setting a broken bone. The goal is not to elevate ourselves, but to help the brother who is sinning.

• How should we as believers approach someone who has sinned? How do we restore a Christian who has strayed?

We should remember that the proper attitude in approaching a brother or sister is one of meekness and love. Legalism will instead give us an attitude of pride and condemnation.

• Verse 4 says we should test our own actions without comparing ourselves to somebody else. What’s wrong with comparing ourselves to others? (Leads to either feeling superior and complacent or inferior and hopeless).
• What does it mean to test our own actions?

If you’ve been involved with a church for a long time, you probably realize that church people are messed up people. God didn’t send His son to die for us because he wants us just to be better people. He sent Jesus because we are messed up. We need a savior.

• Although sins are all equal in the eyes of the Lord, addressing some sins are harder than others. If a brother has an addiction to alcohol or drugs, for instance, that’s much harder than correcting a gossiping tongue. What sins in ourselves and others around us do we simply accept? What keeps us complacent?

Verse two says we are to carry each other’s burdens, and in this way, we fulfill the law of Christ. Our natural reaction is not always a good reaction; when our brother sins, it a burden. It’s a shackle. It can drag us down and it can keep us from experiencing the joy in Christ. Instead of condemning our brother in a legalistic way, as the Pharisees did, remember that Christ tells us to help our brother carry that burden.

• Verse 5 tells us to carry each other’s burdens. Verse 5 tells us to carry our own burden. Are these two verses in conflict? (We are all individually accountable to God.)

Galatians 6:6-10, Sharing Blessings

Verse 6 through 8 expands on Paul’s teachings about carrying one another’s burden.

Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor. Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

Let’s tackle these one verse at a time. Verse 6, “Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor.” In this precept, Paul tells us that instructors in God’s word shares spiritual treasures, and those that learn are to share material things. We must remember that what we do with material things is evidence of how we value spiritual things. Matthew 6:21, Jesus says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

But we must realize the spiritual principle behind this precept. Verses 7 and 8 says that God wants us to give to that we may receive an even greater blessing. God teaches us throughout the bible that we will reap what we sow. A farmer that sows wheat can expect a harvest of wheat. We can use our material goods to promote the flesh, or we can use our material goods to promote the spirit.

We all want good harvest. We want Godly friends. We all want the best that God will provide. But the principle here reminds us that once we have sown the seed, we cannot change the harvest. We will reap what we sow. Money sown to the flesh will bring a harvest of corruption. That money is gone, it can never be reclaimed. Money sown for God’s purpose will produce life, and in that harvest will be seeds that can be planted again. If every believer looked at his material wealth as seed and planted it properly, we would all be reaping a bountiful harvest.

• What is an example of a bad harvest?
• Where were the seeds for that bad harvest planted?
• What is an example of a good harvest?
• How can we sow to the Spirit?

It’s also important to realize that it’s not just what we sow, but how much we sow. 2 Corinthians 9:6 says, ” Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.” If you sow spiritual and material gifts around you generously, your harvest will be bountiful.

After the precept and the principle, now Paul tells us the promise in verse 9. “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” We are promised a bountiful harvest if we sow generously, either in this life or the next. We are cautioned, though, to keep our spirits up. The King James version doesn’t use the words “give up;” it says “for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.” It’s spiritual fainting, getting weary in the work of the Lord, fainting, stopping.

• What causes physical fainting?
• What causes spiritual fainting?
• How can we prevent spiritual fainting?
• In verse 10, why does Paul add, “especially to those who belong to the family of believers?”

In a Peanuts cartoon, Lucy and Charlie Brown are having a discussion. Lucy asks, “Why are we here on earth?” And Charlie Brown replies, “To make others happy.” Lucy considers this for a moment and then asks, “Then why are the others here?”

When we carry each other’s burdens, God has a purpose that we should strengthen each other, not tear each other down or become weary. Our brother or sister in Christ is a receiver of our blessings so that they may in turn become a transmitter of blessings. 1 Thessalonians 3:12 says as we abound in love for one another, we overflow in love for all men.

In Malachi 1:10-13, the people are bringing food to the temple as a sacrifice to God, then they complain that the food doesn’t taste good. The people complain they are bored of worshiping the Lord. The material possessions they bring the Lord are not the best of their, but their diseased and crippled sacrificial lambs. They are sticking their noses in the air and acting as though they were superior. Superior to God Almighty! And God says their sacrifices are worthless. In fact, He says He wishes they would just lock the temple doors so the people would stop lighting useless fires on His altar.

We are good witnesses for the Lord if we do good works for Him out of love, but also use encouraging words. And because we’re all messed up in one way or another, Paul tells us not to criticize our Christian brothers and sisters when they fall, but we are to encourage and restore them gently, and we are to carry each other’s burdens. With our material and spiritual gifts, we are to sow abundantly. And God promises we will reap abundantly and have abundant life in our Lord Jesus.

That’s something to be thankful for every day, is it not?