Before his encounter with Christ, Paul was zealous about the observance of Jewish law, persecuting and murdering some of the earliest followers of Christ. After that encounter, he gained notoriety as a zealot for the cause of Christ. Todd challenges us to be "worked up" about the right things, to be zealous about sharing the freedom from legalism available through Christ, and to be able to share our stories of grace following Paul's model in this passage.
One Last Shot at Communicating the One Great Truth
Why be a Servant When You Can be a Son?
Why Promise is Better than Performance. And Why Moses Doesn't Trump Abraham.
Five Piercing Questions, a Prominent Example, and Perfect Truth
A Right Response to a Wrong Way of Thinking
Why Men Love Religious Systems and Why God Does Not
Are You Crazy Enough to Fight for, Talk About and Live for the Gospel?
The Life that Commends a Man and a Ministry - And the Voice of Truth that Confirms It
I love my job. I really do. I am blessed to get to do what I do. This morning I could not wait to walk with you through a little section of Scripture that I believe is as relevant to anything we could talk about today. I just want to tell you that I acknowledge that some of you folks are coming here this morning with a lot of pain, a lot of angst, a lot of burdens, and you wonder where God is and how you can know him, and if there is a God who's good and loving, why isn't he showing up in your life?
Well, let me tell you he is desperate to show up in your life, and what we sing about, what we talk about, the way we greet and love each other is every part of our trying to declare to you there is a God who is there, who always will be there, who is desperate to have a relationship with you, not because he needs it but because he loves you. One of the ways you connect with him is through community.
It's by not standing in isolation trying to figure out who God is but by looking first at God's revelation of himself in the Word and then getting connected with a body of believers who can spur you on to love and good deeds, to comfort you with the comfort with which they have been comforted, and to remind you of the goodness and presence of Christ. I love that I get to be a part of this body where I am encouraged, where I am comforted, where I am spurred on, where I'm held accountable, and where I am pushed to be the man God wants me to be.
If you are missing out on the life that you've always wondered how you could experience the full abundant life, you're in the right place this morning. I want to start by reading to you from the words of an individual the world thought was mad, and then I'm going to take you to a book written by another man the world thought was mad. We are in the middle of a little series called The Long Arm of the Law and how to escape its threat to your life.
As we said before, often the long arm of the law is what is coming after us when we have done wrong and need to be individuals who are separated from society, but what usually happens is that we burden ourselves with things, and the application of that particular phrase in our little context this morning is that we are burdened by things related to performance, to be loved by each other and, we think, to be loved by God that are just strangling us from having the kind of life we want.
There is not a single healthy child who ever grew up in a performance-based household or who, if you will, didn't have to get over the fact that they grew up in a performance-based household in order to be healthy. The same is true with individuals who are trying to be healthy in this life, full of hope and peace, who have a performance-based understanding of who God is as a Father. Let me start by reading you the words of a madman. This is what Jesus said in John 10:11-21:
"I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep." Can you imagine a guy speaking like this somewhere where you were?
"I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father."
It says in verse 19 a division occurred among the folks he was talking to because of these words. To which I say, "Well, I guess so!" Is this guy a nut or does this guy have a relationship with God that we have never seen before? "Many of them were saying, 'He has a demon and is insane. Why do you listen to Him?'"
Others were saying, "You know what? I couldn't agree with you more. The way he's talking is crazy, but the problem I have with his crazy talk is the crazy things he does. We have seen him do things mere men can't do, so these works of his have a tendency to validate his words." There was a great debate among them.
In Mark, chapter 3, this same Jesus was speaking, and when he came home and was doing some of the same types of public diatribes… It says, "And He came home, and the crowd gathered again, to such an extent that they could not even eat a meal [because there were so many people around them] . When His own people…" That means Mom and Dad, if he was still around, and brothers, which Jesus had.
"When His own people heard of this, they went out to take custody of Him; for they were saying, 'He has lost His senses.'" This is an interesting little section of Scripture. What it's saying is that Jesus' family tried to commit him. Do you know what I love about that? That's exactly what I would do if my son started saying the things Jesus was saying. I'd go, "Bro, I love you. I'm glad you're my son, but you are flat nuts!"
"He has lost his senses." The literal translation of that is, "He is beside himself." It's a little expression we get from the Scriptures, meaning, "You are not in your right mind. You have left your corporal state and you're acting like you're somebody you're not." They thought Jesus was nuts. Well, a little bit later, this event happened where Jesus laid down his own life.
He said, "You don't take my life from me; I am laying it down. You're not in authority; my Father is in authority. He has commanded me to go to this cross, so I'm going to go to this cross, but guess what. That's not the end of the story. I'm going to take my own life back up again, because I'm going to pay the wages of sin, which is death, and my resurrection will prove to you that I'm not nuts." That is the key event in the life of this Jesus.
When he was resurrected, one of the things he did was he appeared to an individual by the name of Saul who was killing people who believed that Jesus wasn't nuts. Paul, throughout his life, after that moment, became a changed man. He no longer wanted to kill people who said Jesus was sane; he became insane himself in the eyes of the world, declaring that this Jesus alone is the means through which people can know God and have a right relationship with him.
In fact, there was a time when all of Paul's countrymen came around him and said, "You are nuts, and you are causing a lot of disturbance," and they delivered him up in the same way Jesus was delivered up. Eventually, he was put through an appeal process, which ended up with him standing before a king. The king's name was Agrippa. In Acts, chapter 26, this is what Paul says to King Agrippa, starting in verse 19:
"So, King Agrippa, I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision [when I met Jesus] , but kept declaring both to those of Damascus first [where I was when this happened] , and also at Jerusalem and then throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles [those who weren't a part of the nation of Israel] , that they should repent [change the way they understood about who God was and who they were and how they were related to him] …"
They should repent of their own system of law, which enslaves them, and return to God. "…performing deeds appropriate to repentance." If they have changed their understanding about who God is and who they are and how you respond and show your love for God, they should then live their lives as men not burdened by performance but freed up in a love relationship.
"For this reason [because I was teaching a new system of relationship with God that had been validated by this guy who was resurrected] some Jews seized me in the temple and tried to put me to death. So, having obtained help from God [because they didn't kill me] , I stand to this day testifying both to small and great, stating nothing but what the Prophets and Moses said was going to take place; that the Christ was to suffer…"
The Messiah, the Deliverer of Israel, wasn't just going to come and make others suffer; he was going to suffer himself to set those free who were in bondage to the system of performance, to the system, if you will, of God's holiness and man's ineptitude.
"'…and that by reason of His resurrection from the dead He would be the first to proclaim light both to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles.' While Paul was saying this in his defense, Festus [the governor who had appealed him up to the king] said in a loud voice, 'Paul, you are out of your mind! Your great learning is driving you mad.'
But Paul said, 'I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I utter words of sober truth. For the king knows about these matters, and I speak to him also with confidence, since I am persuaded that none of these things escape his notice; for this has not been done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the Prophets? I know that you do.'"
Agrippa just shook his head and laughed at Paul, and he said, "'In a short time you will persuade me to become a [follower of Christ] .' And Paul said, 'I would wish to God, that whether in a short or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day [and who read my writings] , might become such as I am, except for these chains.'" "I want you to be free."
I'm going to share with you, as we go back to Galatians, why Paul is so excited about this letter. It's because he went and preached the freedom of Jesus Christ to people who were in bondage by the religious systems of the world. They were enslaved to performance cults or they were enslaved to people who had developed systems out of the faith system God established in the Old Testament, which was, "Have faith in the gracious provision I give to you until the perfect sacrifice comes."
It had been elevated to a place where people were burdened by all kinds of sundry laws and foolish restrictions that God never intended. The law was there to show people the holiness of God and a right response to him, but he always knew they could never fulfill the requirements of the law, so he built into the law a right way to deal with their sin until the perfect sacrifice came for their sin.
People in the Old Testament were saved by grace through faith, faith in the system God revealed, but now a new and better way had come, not the endless sacrifice of bulls and goats that were finite that could never take away the sin before an infinite God but the perfect Lamb who was fully God and fully man, infinite in his essence, always was, always will be, who sacrificed his perfect nature, his perfect self, so he could appease the perfect justice of God.
Paul said, "It has happened. It has come. Here is our King. He is Jesus." He said, "I'm responding to this rightly," and he wrote a letter to some folks he had been to to share this with who had moved away from grace back to law and were burdened with things that God said he didn't want them to be burdened with. "I want you to respond in love, not live in fear of performance."
What I want to show you is that Paul was a bit of a zealot. I had a chance this week to talk to a new friend I made, a man who is as accomplished in the world at what he does as anybody has ever been. He is an individual who has been ranked number one in the world at what he does. He and I were engaged in a conversation about some different things as we talked, and I asked him, basically, about where he came from on spiritual things.
He gave me a very deadpan response. He said, "Well, I believe in God." I go, "Great. Well, specifically, what do you do with the Jesus question?" He looked back at me and said, "I believe in God." I said, "Great. Let me just tell you this. I love you enough to let you know that Jesus claimed to be this God who you need to know. I don't know what you define God as, but there's this event in Jesus' life called the resurrection, and you have to wrestle through it, because there are a lot of men who have said a lot of things, but if this resurrection event happened, then it verifies a lot of the words he said.
I would not be your friend if I did not tell you that the way you respond to Jesus…not how you perform, not how you're philanthropic, not how you are great in the world's eyes, not as you accumulate for yourself great championships and many accomplishments… I'm going to tell you, until you really wrestle with this Jesus question, this life and the life that continues after the grave pivots on your understanding of who Jesus is."
You could tell. He was looking at me. He's going, "Are you crazy that you would sit there and tell me this and be willing for me to think you're just some nut who's passionate about Jesus? We've developed a friendship over these last four or five hours, and you want to take some time to tell me because you love me you want me to wrestle with who this Jesus is?" He just said, "Thanks. Thanks for being crazy. If that's what you believe and you believe it's loving to tell me that, thanks." I said, "You're welcome, but wrestle with this Jesus."
Folks, I want you to wrestle with Jesus. I want you to figure out if he was right. I want you to figure out if he was crazy. I want you to figure out if Paul was crazy that he changed everything about his life to make Jesus more famous. Now look at what we're talking about. We're in the book of Galatians. Just open up in your Bibles with me. We're going to start by reading again the last two verses we looked at last week in Galatians, chapter 1, verses 8-9. Paul gets a little bit feisty and kind of goes on a tear. Listen to what he says as we set up to where we're headed this week.
"But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!" That is what you call a non-neutral statement. "In case I haven't been clear on what I'm passionate about," he's saying, "I want God to damn them if they are trying to take you captive to anything other than this truth." "As we have said before, so I say again now [in case I wasn't clear] , if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!"
Now what do you call a guy who says that? You might call him passionate, you might call him offensive, but you would not call him a people-pleaser. Do you know what's really interesting? That's exactly what they called him, because he was preaching about how God had revealed himself, and the purposes for which God revealed himself were to do for you what you could never do on your own and so that you might break free from the religious systems that are always controlled and perverted by man.
God wants you to know his holiness and see your need, that you might sing praises to him and find freedom and hope in his love and provision for you. Men don't ever want you to really feel freedom. "I want you to feel obligated by what I tell you you have to do, by what I tell you you have to give, by where I tell you you have to be, because that's what's going to make this organization thrive," men think, "and that is what's going to make you think I'm a great leader, because I'm a vessel of God to provide for you what you cannot ever accomplish on your own."
Let me say this about cults. I want to read to you from a little book called Handbook of Today's Religions. This is a statement that's in this book. It says, "One teaching that is totally absent from all the cults is the gospel of the grace of God. No one is taught in the cults that he can be saved from eternal damnation by simply placing his faith in Jesus Christ. It is always belief in Jesus Christ and 'do this' or 'follow that.' All cults attach something to the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith…it is never taught that faith in Christ alone will save anyone."
Why? Because if faith in Christ alone will save anyone, then you don't need this leader who tells you you need him. Now, I will tell you I am a part of the cult of Jesus Christ. I will tell you that I need him. I will tell you that his teachings are what I live by, and there is a great division among the Jews and among the Gentiles as to whether or not I am out of my mind, even as we have seen people, whether they're a part of Heaven's Gate, whether they're a part of the Peoples Temple, whether they're a part of a little group of folks who hung out down there near Waco…
We look at them and shake our heads in sadness and we go, "How in the world could they follow those men?" The question becomes…Who is your leader and why are you following him? What has he done to validate that he is, in fact, God's spokesman? This is what Paul is saying. "My leader is Jesus Christ, and he has come to set you free, and what you do with him determines everything about your relationship with God."
One of the very first places people go to discredit a message is to discredit the messenger. Paul was being accused by folks who came along, saying, "Don't trust Paul. Don't believe in him." They were saying, "Paul is crazy. Paul is unaffiliated. Paul is a people-pleaser. Paul wants you to believe in grace because he thinks it'll make you happy and you'll follow him and his Jesus cult."
Paul is saying, "If I was a people-pleaser I would not be teaching this message, because I was already at the very center of power with what is this region's most popular and sought-after religion, and what I am saying is not making me popular. It is driving me to chains. I'm not fleecing the flock I'm leading. I'm not asking for anything other than the privilege of declaring to them the hope that comes in Jesus Christ."
This is what he says in Galatians 1:10: "For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.""Because the more I serve Jesus, the more I offend the people who are in this world. For all that is in the world…the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, the boastful pride of life, the systems men introduced…is not of the Father but of the world, and the world doesn't like me, just like it didn't love the Father incarnate, Jesus Christ, when he was here."
Paul gets pretty doggone worked up, and we're just, what we would call, 10 verses into his letter. I just thought about what gets me worked up, and I wrote down a little observation for myself as I was doing this. What riles me up or what gets me worked up is ultimately what I worship. I thought about some times this week where I had decided it was time for me to go home and have some downtime, and everybody in my family was supposed to know this intuitively, so they were supposed to listen to me the very first time I told them to go upstairs and take a shower.
They were supposed to know I really didn't want to engage in any more conversation and let me just power down and maybe watch a late Mavericks game. I was off. What happened is some people weren't ready for me to be off, but because I valued me, I got worked up when they were not living according to my religion, which was "Do what Todd wants." So it got me worked up, and I let them know, "Don't come into my space right now, because this is what I'm about."
I started thinking to myself that's not where I want to get worked up. I don't want to get worked up about my comfort, about my expectations. What you get angry at says a lot about what you really adore. If you get angry because folks are not letting you drive in the lane you want to drive in at the speed you want to drive, if you get angry that somebody isn't making you feel as valued as you should, it shows you what you really adore.
The only thing that really got Paul angry, the only thing that really got Paul worked up is when somebody threatened a right understanding of who Jesus was and when somebody threatened the possibility that people who God loved and created could have a relationship with him. What a great statement. If I become more like Jesus Christ, those would be the only two things that would get me worked up: when somebody is misrepresenting Christ and his gospel or when somebody is leading people God loves poorly.
But if I had to look at my life this last week, why I need a Savior is a lot of Todd getting worked up is because somebody is messing with the religion of Todd, and that has to change. What gets you worked up? It says a lot about what you worship. Paul is on a tear right here. He says in verse 11, "For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man." It's not man's ideas I'm giving you, so I don't consult man when I preach it or when I respond to it.
Verse 12: "For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it [by man] , but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.""Who, by the way, is the resurrected one. How could I have heard this from Jesus? I never knew Jesus himself when he was living those first 33 years." That's why Paul calls himself an "apostle untimely born." Meaning, he was one sent forth from God, even though he did not spend the three years with Jesus that the other apostles did.
"But he lives, and I have met him, so I represent him." It is the exact same thing I am saying to you. I am not representing to you the words of a man. I'm telling you that God lives. His Spirit is alive. He is active. He is engaging men and women today, and I have met Jesus Christ. I have not heard his audible voice. I have not seen a vision of him. He has not appeared to me as he did to Paul, but I'm telling you, I have met God through Jesus Christ.
I don't tell you what men think; I tell you what he thinks. I've looked as best I can at the record of Jesus' life, the record of who he was historically, and I'm doing my best to respond to what this book has long said was going to happen through Moses and the prophets that was fulfilled through Jesus Christ.
I want to stop right here before I go much farther forward and tell you what gets me riled up. I think it's the greatest evil in America today, and it has caused me to be, in many ways, in many circles, spoken about like Paul, and that's fine with me. This gets me riled up like nothing else. I think the greatest evil in America today is what's happening right now all across America. People are gathering in places we call churches, and they are gathering underneath leadership that is not following Jesus Christ.
I believe the greatest evil in America today is the dead church. I've said it this way before; I'm going to say it again. As you engage with people who are attending churches today, I want you to look them in the eye and ask them, "What are those who are shepherding you, who are encouraging you, who you are part of a body with… What head are they serving? Do you even consult the head or have you guys just agreed to live a certain way and tell each other you're doing fine?"
I've said it this way. This is the deal most pastors cut with their people. They tell you, "Come along. Sit down here, and give enough money to keep the lights on, have enough attendance to validate what I'm doing, and when I teach I will not ask too much of you, and we will both tell each other we are doing what God wants us to do. We can live secular, separate lives. We're not going to get too involved in each other's lives, because that would cause us to be exposed and really be held accountable, because being spurred does not feel good."
They just kind of float along with each other with a relationship that is inconsistent with what Jesus says we should have if he is who he said he was. It is killing our country, because the source of light, the hope in this land, which is Christ in you, true believers of who he is, is the hope of glory. If that light is dim, the world is going to live in darkness. When the blind lead the blind, they both fall into a ditch, Jesus said.
It wears me out when people I love are being exposed to a neutered form of Christianity that has them in a system of dead works or performance without truly engaging with the living God. Their church doesn't care a lick about what they do as long as they don't really embarrass them publicly. "Just kind of come along. You don't even have to give the 10 percent. You don't have to give anything more than what we need to keep the lights on and maybe do our next little building." We are using each other, and it is sickening.
Let me give you something very specific that you can use with your friends who are attending churches. I would encourage you to grab these things and say to your friends, "Do you know what the leadership of your church believes?" If they can't say, "Yes," then you ought to tell them, "That's not very wise to follow people that you're not sure what they're really about, is it? You ought to go sit down with the leadership of your church, your shepherds, and ask them, 'Are you about these things?' and then when they say they're about these things, you need to evaluate if they are, in fact, not just aspirational in their assent to them but if they are actually living as if these things were true."
There's a guy named George Barna, who is one of the great observers in our society today, who has put together a list of seven things that he says are central core beliefs that Jesus and the Scriptures teach. I'm going to give them to you. The reason I want to give them to you is because if you don't get riled up when people don't believe these things… You should be full of gentleness and reverence, but this is worth creating a chasm over. This is the dividing line.
The glory of God and the quality of life that individuals are experiencing today because they're either intimately related to God or separated from God is at stake. God says, "Do you want to know what the greatest sin you can commit is? It's when you ignore the greatest commandment, to love me with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself."
That's why I said to my friend this week, "Listen. I wouldn't be your friend if I didn't engage you on this one little conversation. What do you do with Jesus?" Here are seven things that Barna has said represent what he calls a biblical worldview. As always, these will be on our website.
1._ Absolute moral truth exists_. The source of that moral truth is the Bible. We say as our first core value here that the Bible is our authority, conscience, and guide. We stand firm where it is firm. We remain flexible where it is flexible. If you ever see anything happening here that is inconsistent with God's Word, if you love me, if you love leadership, if you love your Community Group leader, if you love your spouse, you'll gently knock on their heart and say, "Help me understand the basis for that action as informed by Scripture."
2._ The Bible is accurate in all of the principles it teaches_. In other words, it has been tested. It is sure. It is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness. It is the only worthwhile authority in your life. There is absolute truth, and that absolute truth can be found in the Bible.
3._ Eternal spiritual salvation cannot be earned_. Did you hear that? This is the dividing line. Eternal spiritual salvation cannot be earned; it is by grace alone. In other words, if your leadership is saying, "We're fine if you believe that, but everybody everywhere is going to believe what they're going to believe…" No, no, no. That's not what Jesus said. Jesus said, "This is the only way. It's salvation by grace through faith in me and my perfect, accomplished, finished work on the cross."
4._ Jesus lived a sinless life on earth. Well, who can live a sinless life? Only the Perfect One. That's why when the rich young ruler came to him and said, "Good Teacher," Jesus stopped him right there and said, "Why do you call me good?" The word he used for _good is intrinsically good. No man is intrinsically good. All of us are self-serving. Because none of us have a perfect heart, it is impossible for any of us to do a completely perfect deed, except Jesus, because he was God…100 percent God, 100 percent man. When he identified with us in his humanity, he revealed to us the glory of God because he was perfect. He was God.
5._ Every person has a responsibility to share their understanding of this Jesus with others_. This is not an option. It's not for salaried people. It's not for super saints. It's not for seminary graduates. Full devotion is normal for the believer. If you're in relationship with God and you say you love him, to not tell people about him makes no sense. Can you preach the gospel of the Scripture? If God had you in a place where you were responsible for repeating what he himself firmly planted into our world as the truth which men need to respond to, could you do it?
I'll give you one place in Scripture where Paul made it infinitely clear. He said, "It's always a matter of first importance for me." In 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, he says, "For I delivered to you as of first importance…" It's the only thing that really matters. "…what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…" There it is. It is a dividing point. Let people think you're crazy camping on that point.
6._ Satan is a living force, not just a symbol of evil_. In other words, there really is an individual who is in rebellion against God, who has brought others into rebellion against God, who is a roaring lion seeking whom he might devour. Not just an idea, not somebody equal to God, but somebody who is up to no good who is seeking to destroy people.
7._ God is the all-knowing, all-powerful maker of the universe who still rules that creation today_. Now I'm going to share with you something that's amazing. You ask people if they go to church and you're going to get a significant percentage in our country. You ask people what they believe about Jesus or if they're a Christian and you'll get a significant response, but when you ask people if they believe what Jesus said about himself and what the Bible says about our understanding of reality (Jesus said, "I didn't come to abolish God's Word; I came to fulfill it") and you're going to get a completely different response.
According to this pollster, who is as respected and honored as any pollster you could think of out there, only 5 out of 100 Americans believe those seven things to be true. Only 5 percent of America, which will give you a good understanding of the fact that we live in a post-Christian culture by a long shot. If you're going to be zealous about these things, the world is going to say, "You've gone mad. You're taking this too seriously. Don't you know the intellect of today has moved well beyond that, the age of enlightenment has shown us it's silly?"
Do you know that 8 percent of people who are attending Protestant churches believe this, and less than 0.5 percent of people who attend Catholic churches believe that? Here's the shocking one. Not just that 90 percent of America feels accepted by God, understanding that only 5 percent believe the things we just talked about. While 90 percent have been deluded into thinking they're fine with God because of the system they're involved in, 51 percent of Protestant pastors, over half of the people in leadership of Protestant churches do not believe in that biblical worldview as represented.
Now why is that important? Because you cannot impart what you do not have. When you have our leadership taking people down a place that they think they're doing what God wants them to do or believing what God wants them to believe, it is no wonder that our world, our country is heading in that direction. Let those men be accursed. Expose them. Show them for what they are: men who are enemies of God and who are not serving people well.
If there is ever a time you see something inconsistent with God's Word that you see us, as leadership, doing, bring it to our attention. That's why we're a body, and that's why we are to work together, and that's why we are to spur each other on to love and good deeds. Let's move on. In verse 13 through the rest of this chapter… I want to read it to you. I'm just going to give you a couple of simple applications to drive this thing home, but I'm starting with what ought to get you riled up.
If you want to talk about any one of those seven things and sit down and visit together, we welcome you. We're not going to be offended. We're not going to be bothered. We're going to engage in a gentle, respectful give-and-take about whether or not these things are so. Don't believe them because I say it, but if Jesus is who he said he was and he says these things are essential, especially this salvation by grace through faith alone, let's wrestle with it. Let's wrestle with it together. Look at verse 13.
"For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it; and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions. But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother's womb and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood…" I didn't say, "Mama, what do you think?" I didn't say, "Culture, what's the worldview?"
"…nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to Damascus. Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas [Peter] , and stayed with him fifteen days. But I did not see any other of the apostles except James, the Lord's brother [in that short period of time]. (Now in what I am writing to you, I assure you before God that I am not lying.)"
I want to tell you this, gang. I deserve to be damned forever if what I'm saying isn't right. Teachers should incur a stricter judgment, but you are teaching with your life. All of us in different forms… Certainly what I do, but all of us are responsible. What are you teaching? What are you offering other people hope in?
When they look at your life, where do they see you finding life? Jesus plus something? Jesus plus your house? Jesus plus your career? Jesus plus your reputation or just in Jesus is there peace? Where are you finding your merit before God? In Jesus plus attendance, Jesus plus other things or just Jesus, and then because you love Jesus you do other things as an expression of love? But do you add those to why God will love you? Then you're missing it.
"Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea which were in Christ; but only, they kept hearing, 'He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith which he once tried to destroy.'" Something has changed. "And they were glorifying God because of me."
What's great about this little section of Scripture in Galatians, chapter 1, verses 13-24, is that Paul is going to tell you his story, and there are some lessons to be learned from the way Paul tells his story for you and me.
1.It's easy to endure. He compresses about 15 years into about 11 verses. He didn't go on some four-hour rant. When I initially had this conversation with my friend, I had it in about two minutes. I didn't ask him for lunch. I didn't ask him for a family vacation together, but we were engaged, and after a while this particular aspect of the conversation came around, and in a way that was very succinct, I made it easy for him to endure the testimony of who I believe Jesus is and why he should consider it.
2._ It was easy to follow_. It was logical. If you'll look at what Paul did in verses 13-14, he says, "This is who I was before I knew the grace of God." Then in verse 15 he says (at some point), "But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother's womb and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood [but I came to follow Jesus] ."
It's logical. "This is what my life was like before. I was endlessly trying to perform, and then by the grace of God I understood who Jesus was and why he came and what he had to accomplish because I could never accomplish it." Then he moves on very quickly and goes on to what happened after in verse 17 and following.
3._ It's easy to see who he was ultimately excited about. It's easy to follow before, at this point, and after, and then he said, "Let me tell you something else. It's easy for you when you listen to me to hear who I'm excited about." I didn't tell people about how I was such a good person they ought to be impressed by me when I shared my story the other day. I didn't hear Paul in _this talk about what a good man he was and how you should be impressed by his résumé.
What Paul does is he says, "You need to know who I'm excited about. Not that I'm a Pharisee of Pharisees, but I'm excited about Jesus and what he accomplished for me." Who you say Jesus is changes everything. Paul's message was easy to endure, easy to follow before, at, and after, and it was easy to see who was at the center of his story: not him in his wildness, not him in his goodness, but Jesus and his cross.
Now, a couple of other observations in here. One of the things you see about Paul is after he came to a place where he understood who Jesus was… Look at verse 17 and following. It says, "When I understood who Christ was, I did not go to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away to Arabia and returned once more to Damascus. Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem." You just jumped over three years.
There's a lot of confusion and, frankly, not a lot of information about what Paul did during those three years, but one of the best observations I've heard anybody make is that during those three years, what Jesus did with Paul in the desert is he had Paul go back over that Old Testament he had studied and taught as a Pharisee, and he spent time, as an individual who was in intimacy with Jesus Christ through his Spirit and through the illumination of his Word, to understand how the Old Testament with Moses and the prophets…
Remember what he said to King Agrippa? "I'm not saying anything that Moses and the prophets didn't already say was coming. Jesus fulfilled them." What Paul did for those three years is he spent time with the Lord. He spent time understanding God's Word so he could declare it to others. By the way, how much time did Peter, James, John, Matthew, Bartholomew, and others spend with Jesus? Three years.
Now this doesn't mean Paul wasn't actively sharing with people at that time. Paul wasn't a believer for six minutes before he was declaring to people around him, "I had the Jesus question wrong." So you can begin to share right away, but there has to be a time in your life, and it should be a continual time, because Paul was continually learning… The very last book in the Bible written by Paul is 2 Timothy.
The last thing he says in the very last book is "Bring me the parchments. Bring me the Scriptures." Dying in a jail cell as an old man whose ministry cycle was winding down, he said, "I want to learn more of Christ." So we're continually learning, but mark my word on this: we have to be individuals who study to see if these things are so. What do I believe about who Christ is? What do I believe about God's Word? What do I believe about what Jesus accomplished? What do I believe about Moses and the prophets being fulfilled in him?
Do you see how one of the things Paul says in the midst of this is, "I took some time to study and get to know Christ"? Billy Graham when asked if he has any regrets in his ministry said, "Yes, I have one regret, and that is that I did not study more." Now, you don't study at the exclusion of sharing the gospel with other people, but you'd better make sure you are attentive to his Word. Every time Moses was confronted with a problem…
Those of you who are journeying with us through the Scripture, where did Moses go? He said, "Stay here. I will go meet with the Lord, and then I will return to you and tell you what he said." All he did right then is what we should do. He went to the Tent of Meeting. Go to the Tent of Meeting. Get on your knees. Get in the Book. Get with others and go, "What has God said before I speak about what I should do?" If you are going to be ambassadors of Christ, you'd better know what your King says and believes.
Now watch what will happen when you do that and when you respond to it rightly and fully. Verse 24: "And they were glorifying God because of me." Paul is saying, "This is what I am passionate about. You want to get me riled up? Then you mock who God is, as revealed through Jesus Christ, and you enslave people through error, false teaching, and dead religion. I don't care who they are. I'll look them in the eye and say, 'Let them be accursed,' because they're going to incur a stricter judgment."
"Let me tell you my story. This is who I was before I knew Christ. I was enslaved by performance, but then at this moment I met Jesus. God in his grace revealed himself to me, and then this is what happened afterward." This is what should always happen afterward when you come to really understand the love of God poured out on you through Jesus Christ. Your life ought to be so captured, your heart ought to be so changed…
If it is true that Jesus is God and he died for you, then you should say, "Well, what can I do for him?" You're not going to be conformed to the world, but you're going to be transformed by the renewing of your mind so that you might prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. You're not going to lean on your own understanding, but in all your ways you're going to acknowledge him.
You're not going to seek your own personal interests. You're not going to do what's easy for you. You're going to treat others the way you want to be treated. You're going to be a transformed person, and the other people in the world are going to look at you and go, "I don't know what that dude believes, but if a life was going to be lived that was honoring, it ought to look like that." "And they were glorifying God because of me."
Do you know what encourages me more than anything else? I have a list here I started writing down late last night, and I just stopped, because it could go into the hundreds. I have had numerous people come up to me and say, "Hey, is so-and-so starting to go to your church? I think he is. I have to tell you something. We are talking about this guy in our neighborhood. His wife looks different. His kids are responding differently. We can't believe the difference in his conversations."
I have had people come to me and say, "I have to tell you something. My boss goes to your church. I've never had a boss who loves and cares for me like that." I've had individuals come to me and say, "Hey, I have a guy who goes to your church who works for me. He's one of the finest individuals I know." They are giving glory to God, because we are not just going through the motions here. We're saying, "This is who Jesus is, and this is how you respond to him."
I asked one guy who is a leader of another church one time, "What is the reputation you have of us who are trying to follow Christ here like you're trying to follow Christ there?" He said, "Do you want to know what it is? That you guys are really trying to follow Christ and that people who are involved in the community of Christ followers at Watermark aren't just going through the motions in a way that's rattling our cages and making us step up our game."
That is not a credit to us; that is a credit to the Spirit of God working in us and through us, but it's what ought to happen everywhere. Nothing blesses my life as much as the conversations I have when folks walk up and they hear that I'm a part of Watermark and they say, "I have to tell you something." These stories have all happened.
"There's a guy who lives on our street. This guy was a drunk. This guy's family was in chaos. We could see it in his wife's eyes. Something has changed, and we asked her what, and she said it's because they have met Christ through a community of faith called Watermark. This wife's eyes are alive, the kids are secure, and this guy is starting to sober up, and his life is being changed." I've talked to other people who say, "Hey, you're at Watermark, right?" "Yes."
"I work for a guy who goes to your church, and I have to tell you it's the best place I've ever worked, because he cares for me, because he leads his company with integrity, and because he's not all about him." We see it here. I've had people come to me and say, "Hey, you're at Watermark, right?" I say, "Yes." They go, "I have to tell you something. There's a young man who works for me who goes to Watermark. He's the finest young employee I have."
I had a guy who walked up to me about three weeks ago. He was here this morning with his family. He said, "Pastor, I have to tell you something." I said, "What?" He goes, "Listen. I asked my wife what about me bothered her, and it was unbelievable. I asked my daughters what it was about me that bothered them, and it blew me away.
I asked my wife. She looked at me. She thought for a second. She took a deep breath and looked me in the eye and said, 'You don't put your clothes away. You leave your clothes in the corner. It drives me crazy.' I asked my daughter what it was that bothered her about me, and she looked me in the eyes and said, 'Dad, whenever we get those Keebler cookies I love that I always ask Mom to buy, you wipe them out.' Third daughter said, 'Dad, we're good.'"
He said, "I have to tell you something. I came to know Christ here. Three years ago, my wife didn't have a problem with my clothes in the corner; my wife had a problem with my clothes because I was not a blessing in that house. She wanted me out. Three years ago, my kids were scared to death of me. I wasn't devouring their Keebler cookies; I was devouring them. I was verbally abusive. I was angry, I was angry, I was angry, and our home was hell." He said, "And my kids think I eat too many cookies." They were sitting here.
Two years ago I had the privilege of baptizing this guy. The next baptism, I baptized his wife with him because she wanted to know any God who is glorious enough to change this man. Last baptism with this woman and this man, we baptized his two daughters, because they wanted to know this Jesus who changed their daddy.
I talked to them this morning. They were sitting right here. I said, "Your daddy told me this before. I want to ask you." They said, "Oh yeah, that's right. Too many cookies. Too many clothes on the ground, but we don't have the same dad we used to have." Glory be to God. Easy to follow, easy to endure, easy to see who gets the glory.
Father, I thank you for my friends this morning, and I pray as we walk out of here today that we would be people who don't get angry when our program and plan isn't executed but that we would only, Father, speak up when we see Jesus not being exalted as the King of Kings, as the way, the truth, and the life, and we would speak out against dead churches, godless leadership, tepid, weak, lukewarm, nominal followers of Jesus Christ because they desecrate the future of men.
I pray we'd speak up when we see the destiny of our friends compromised by people who give them a system of dead works, church attendance, and cultural believism. I pray, Father, that we would speak up against individuals who have not radically met Jesus Christ with the sober truth that they are sinners, he is holy, he is Savior, and he is demanding that he be their Lord.
Father, I thank you for the chance to come in here and look and learn from Paul and see that we should be bold in what we declare, even if the world thinks we are crazy, and they will because we follow a leader the world thought was crazy because he said he knew God. I pray we'd have confidence because we look in history and we can verify that our leader said, "Don't just listen to my words. Look at my works. See if I claim my life again."
The tomb is empty. Jesus is Lord, and we seek to follow him. Father, if we are wrong, spare these people. Rid them from our poor leadership and godless diatribe, but if we are true, may we in gentleness and kindness, with passion declare it no matter what the world does with us, and may we live our lives in such a way that as they see us follow Jesus they glorify God because of us. We pray this for your glory and our good as we worship you, amen.
Have a great week of worship.
What makes the Christian faith like no other? Its bold claim that we are accepted by God - not because we "follow the rules" - but only because of Christ's sacrifice. Yet how many of us, if we're honest with ourselves, are still trying to earn God's love!Having previously established the church in Galatia, Paul continues to boldly proclaim Christ and maintain that the law's sole purpose was to make us aware of our great need for God's grace. He warns against striving to merit God's acceptance by following strict religious practices. Doing so is an exercise in futility and a rejection of Christ's sacrifice.The message for believers today is clear: Relying on performance to earn God's love sets us up for bondage to legalism, pride and hardness of heart. Join Todd Wagner on this walk through the book of Galatians where you'll discover the danger of performance-based acceptance and learn to walk in the freedom offered through a relationship with Christ.