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Why Men Love Religious Systems and Why God Does Not

In Galatians, Paul encourages the readers of his letter to reject religious systems mired in dead tradition and meaningless but familiar ritual. Todd explores the reasons why they are so widely accepted and explains why God hates the legalism and bondage they represent.

Todd WagnerMay 6, 2007
Galatians 2:1-10

Messages In This Series (8)
One Last Shot at Communicating the One Great Truth
Todd WagnerJun 24, 2007
Why be a Servant When You Can be a Son?
Todd WagnerJun 17, 2007
Why Promise is Better than Performance. And Why Moses Doesn't Trump Abraham.
Todd WagnerJun 10, 2007
Five Piercing Questions, a Prominent Example, and Perfect Truth
Todd WagnerJun 3, 2007
A Right Response to a Wrong Way of Thinking
Todd WagnerMay 20, 2007
Why Men Love Religious Systems and Why God Does Not
Todd WagnerMay 6, 2007
Are You Crazy Enough to Fight for, Talk About and Live for the Gospel?
Todd WagnerApr 29, 2007
The Life that Commends a Man and a Ministry - And the Voice of Truth that Confirms It
Todd WagnerApr 22, 2007

How can a letter to a group of folks in ancient Turkey 2,000 years ago have any relevance to us today? If you're here today and you have your Bible, open with me to Galatians. We're going to look at chapter 2. Are you sitting down this morning with all your sin and shame stored up? Well, are you ready to live?

"For what the law could not do, God did." That is a perfect summary of what this whole little book is about. We're not going to let anything threaten what God did so that you can experience the freedom he wants you to have. Not with your petty moralism, not with your performance traps, not with your Jesus-plus-anything message. We want you to know God died to set you free. He loves you. He is a perfect Father who perfectly provides for his children.

So we are here this morning singing together about what God has done. Then, as we come together and as we're reminded what God has done, we live to spur each other on to a complete and full and right response to that. If you're here this morning and guilt and shame are wracking you, let me remind you what God did.

Now, here is how a letter 2,000 years ago to a bunch of Turks is relevant to you and me. What is going on is that there is a radical message of hope being preached, and that is that the systems of the world, the systems of performance that will get you in favor with others around you and especially in favor with an all-knowing God who is intimate and will hold men accountable…

That breach that has been developed by your sin and going your own way has been closed. A way has been provided back to a life with God, back to relationship with God, back to forgiveness with the one who is holy and just and by no means will let the guilty go unpunished. Something has happened which will set you free. It won't leave you hoping you've done enough. It has happened. Trust in it.

Anything else is to spit in his face again and will leave you in an even greater place of trouble than you were before he came to finish what you could not even begin to deal with. That's the message of Galatians. It's the message you and I need to continually hear. Let me sum up what we believe. We believe God has initiated relationship with us because he is a loving, good, caring Father and wants to provide for his children, so he did what we could never do.

The world systems, the way of man is to make God low enough or to make us high enough that the difference between him and me is not that big of a deal, so I can close it with my performance or my petty efforts of philanthropy or just performing and making sure I have more good chips on the table than bad, and surely I'll at least get a C+, and that means I pass.

God said, "I'm not a God who grades on a curve. I'm a God who is perfect and holy. I can't have fellowship with that which is not perfect. You chose to not walk with me, which made you imperfect, so we have a real problem. Unless you are made new, unless by some act of creative grace I can make you like you are not, there is no hope." Religion is what we do. The message of the good news of Jesus Christ is what he has done.

Then how do you respond to that? Well, what is going on is that a guy named Paul, who is preaching this message, and he's preaching it to a group of people who hadn't really known much about God before… They were kind of trapped in their own ideas and their own system and their own ideas and creations of who God was and what God was like. So there were pantheists. There were polytheists. There were some monotheists. There were a lot of different cult gods, a lot of different regional gods.

Paul is saying, "Look. There's only one God. He's the God of creation. He's the God who made every one of you and is sovereign over all of the nations." Paul says, "This God doesn't just love the Jews. He loves the world, and he has brought to the world a message of hope. He has uniquely chosen to reveal himself through this group of people, but it is not about this group of people; it's about him.

So I, being a Jew, having heard this message, am now being used by God to take that message to the entire world, because the Jews love some of the systems they can get their arms around and have rejected God's provision. They think they're good enough because they've been this people God has had an intimate relationship with."

I'm telling you, they've rejected the message of hope, by and large, as a nation. There are still individual Jews who have responded. All of the apostles were Jewish, and here comes Paul, who by the grace of God is then used to be the primary communicator of this message to the entire Gentile, which is to say non-Jewish, world.

Well, there were some guys who followed him around wherever he preached and said, "Hey, Paul. You know what? Some of us have gotten okay with the idea that Jesus was somebody special, but anybody who accepts that Jesus is something special…" By the way, this is such a relevant message, because you're going to have a hard time getting in a conversation with anybody, even an atheist, who's going to tell you Jesus wasn't somebody special.

Probably the most common response to who Jesus was is, "A great teacher, a great leader, a great moralist and one we ought to all pursue to be like." You'll have a real problem with folks when you start to say, "No, no. He's not just that. He is God. He is the way, he is the truth, and he is the life." That's when things start to shake out and give you trouble with others, and it's where it gave Paul trouble with people who were okay with the Jesus figure but not with what Jesus said about himself.

So they'd follow Paul around, and every time Paul would talk about how a relationship with Jesus alone is enough to give you life, they'd come around and say, "That is crazy. You need not just what Jesus said about himself and what he did, but you need to add to that certain performing actions." Paul said, "Not so." So what these guys did is they attacked Paul. One of the tactics of enemies is to take on the messenger whenever they have a problem with a message.

A favorite tactic was to say, "This Paul is just some idiot running around in isolation. Where did he get this message from?" Paul started the book of Galatians by saying, "I got the message from God himself, because Jesus is alive. He revealed himself to me. You can go test what I'm saying, and if I'm saying anything inconsistent with what the Law and the Prophets God has given us had always anticipated, don't listen, but before you reject it out of hand, listen to it. By the way, what I'm saying is what the guys who hung out with Jesus himself were saying."

He went through a great deal of effort in Galatians, chapter 1, to say, "I didn't get discipled by Peter. I didn't get discipled by James. I heard this from Jesus." He's talking about his gospel message. Now let me just throw this out at you. When you start Galatians, chapter 2, you have a little date right here. This does seem irrelevant to us, but in Galatians 2 it says, "Then after an interval of fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem…"

The reason that seems odd is because of where the chapter break is. Let me just throw this out, because this is of interest to some people. Do you know that as early as 580 years before Christ came on earth the people of Israel, who had a group of writings that they believed, as we believe today, were a gift from God to help them understand who he was and what he was doing, had broken up the Old Testament into some 154 sections, and it was to be read in these sections over a three-year period.

Do you know what that means? That means folks have been "Journeying" for about 2,600 years. Literally, they took the Bible and broke it up into 154 sections, and they said, "Hey, read through this every three years." It's exactly what we're trying to get you to do. Get in God's Word. Spend time with it. Go over it, and never let it get far from you.

A number of years later, though, when there were some writings that were brought forth that the church recognized as a similar gift from God that came from God through the instrument of fallible men, those books became our New Testament. Along about AD 325, there was a major gathering of religious leaders. It was called the Council of Nicaea. Then the New Testament was broken up into paragraphs.

About 1,200 years later, there was a guy who came along and further broke it up into major sections, and by about 1500 there was a guy who church history knows as Stephanus, a guy who was known as Robert Estienne, who came along and broke the Bible up into chapters and verses. It wasn't originally written in chapters and verses, just like when you write an email you don't write, "Verse 1, verse 2, chapter 3," and on you go.

You just write your email, but if it's an email of a certain length and we want people to be able to refer to it, sometimes we annotate it. Sometimes we bullet-point it. Sometimes we put a 1. If it's a longer document, there are sections. There are paragraphs. All that is is a way to refer to where certain things are. Frankly, sometimes where those breaks are is a little unfortunate.

In 1500, right around the time of the Gutenberg press, when the Bible started to be mass-produced, they settled on Stephanus' work and efforts. So since about 1500-and-something is when you've had the Bible as we know it today broken up the way it is. It had long been regarded as God's Word, but it was broken up the way it is for about the last 500 or 600 years.

This is one of the places that it's a little unfortunate where it broke. In chapter 1, he's talking about his journeys up to see the apostles back and forth, and he's saying, "I didn't get my message from them," but he's trying to relay to people who were being attacked because they followed Paul's preaching… He's saying, "This is my entire relationship with the apostles." There's a reason he says this.

"Then after an interval of fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along also. It was because of a revelation that I went up; and I submitted to them the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles…" We know there are about four different times Paul went to Jerusalem, and there's a lot of debate about which one this was. We know from Galatians, chapter 2, he went up because of a vision. Let me show you where I think he's referring to. In Acts, chapter 11, Luke is writing about what happened in the early church.

He said, "Now at this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them named Agabus stood up and began to indicate by the Spirit that there would certainly be a great famine all over the world. And this took place in the reign of Claudius." So we know exactly when this is in history. "And in the proportion that any of the disciples had means, each of them determined to send a contribution for the relief of the brethren living in Judea."

Just for fun, here comes some information. Here's how Israel is broken up, very simply. In the northern part there is a little lake, a sea called Galilee. There's a line that comes down from the Sea of Galilee called the Jordan River around another body of water called the Dead Sea. It is the lowest elevation in that entire region. That's why there's so much mineral deposit in the Dead Sea. That's why there's nothing there that has anything to do with life.

You can't fish in the Dead Sea because nothing can live in the Dead Sea. You can go lay in the Dead Sea and float on your back because the weight of the water there is so immense. So the sea is dead. Thus the name. But up north you have Galilee by the Sea of Galilee, and then in the middle you have Samaria, and then south you have Judea around Jerusalem. The way I remember it is Galilee, Judea, and then there's "Samaria" between them. That's the basic breakdown of Israel during the time of Christ.

What he's saying is, "I was in Galilee up where Antioch is, and I went down." Whenever you go from Minnesota to Texas you think you go down. Paul said he went up. Why? Because the elevation toward Jerusalem was up. Jerusalem was a city on a hill so it could not be hidden. That's why he says that. He went up because he had this vision from this prophet that, "Hey, we need to go down to the brethren living in Judea."

"And this they did, sending it in charge of Barnabas and Saul [Paul] to the elders." He said, "When I went down there during this time, this is the conversation we had." Watch this. Back to Galatians. "We're there talking, and I wanted to meet when I was down there giving some gifts to the poor in Judea…" One of the reasons that Jews in Judea did not like Jews in Galilee is because that's where a lot of the Roman encampments were.

They believed Jews who lived anywhere around these great military bases were Jews who were compromised, because if they lived up there they ought to be seditious. They ought to be doing everything they can to rid Israel of the presence of Rome. So a lot of them really resented the richer Jews in the north, because there was more industry and commerce going on up there in Galilee, whereas down in Jerusalem many of them were suffering. That's why the rich brothers came and shared what they had with the poor brothers.

While they were there, Paul said, "I'm going to go down and not only take these gifts, but I'm going to meet, while I'm down here, with the guys I met a number of years ago. Fourteen years ago, I spent three weeks with Peter and James, and I'm going to check back in with them, because these last 14 years I've been getting after it, and there have been some people saying that what I'm teaching isn't what I should be teaching."

He said, "So that I might not have all kinds of trouble where I'm proclaiming things, because men in Jerusalem would attack what I'm saying and would weaken my message, I went to those guys and said, 'Do you know there are people who say they love Jesus but are coming behind me everywhere I go and telling me I need to add some things to what I'm preaching? These Gentiles know nothing of God.

I'm talking to them about Jesus, and then they come behind me and go, "Well, don't just tell them about Jesus. Tell them that Jesus was a Jew. Tell them to celebrate our festivals. Tell them to celebrate our rites of inclusion into community. Make them get circumcised. Make them celebrate all of the feasts. Make them do all of these things."'" Paul said, "I'm not going to make them do these things, because those things anticipated what Jesus accomplished. I'm not going to go back and make them anticipate what has been done."

That's the gig. You got it? Now I'm going to show you why this is relevant. "But not even Titus, who was with me, when I was there talking to these guys, though he was a Greek, was compelledby Peter and James, who all you people who are criticizing me say are men God clearly laid his hand on to take the message of truth and freedom forward… They received Titus like a brother. They didn't make him get circumcised."

All circumcision was was a sign of a relationship inside a community that expressed its community through this one specific male rite. There are a lot of reasons God chose circumcision, but the idea is you don't need to get circumcised to show you're part of the Jewish community. You need to deal with the corruption in your heart to show that you want to be rightly related to God. Look at verse 4.

"But it was because of the false brethren [who knew I was down there] secretly brought in, who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage [to bring us back to a system of works] ." Look at the words he uses. He said, "These are some militant people who are using military strategies. They are spies. They're sneaking in secretly. They're putting false partners in there with us, and when we're not looking they're trying to bring people back to this system they're familiar with."

I like what one guy said. He said there's the old expression, "You don't want to rob Peter to pay Paul." What the Judaizers were doing was elevating Peter in order to spite Paul. They were saying, "Don't listen to Paul. Listen to Peter." Well, Paul is saying, "Look, it doesn't matter to me, but just so you know, when I went down there, I looked up Peter and said, 'Do you know some guys are coming around here telling me I'm not telling them what I should tell them?'

Peter looked at me and looked at Titus and said, 'Hey, Titus, do you love Jesus Christ? Are you trusting him alone as the means through which you're rightly related to God? So am I. So even though when we're in the men's room we might look different, as men before God we don't look different, and that's all that matters.'" That's the idea. He says, "But we did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour, so that the truth of the gospel would remain with you."

Here's where I want to hunker in, because this is a major dividing point. Remember what I said last week. This got Paul pretty riled up. I talked last week about how there are things in my life that get me riled up sometimes that I have to go, "You know what? When I get riled up about anything other than the things that rile up a true man of God, it is evidence that I am not living in that moment as a man of God." What I want to show you is why we keep reverting back to the things Jesus came to set us free from. Are you ready?

I sat down and went, "Why is this book so relevant? What is it about us that makes us want to keep going back to systems that will make us somehow less free than Christ intended?" I'm going to give you five reasons why people like old religious systems, and then I'm going to share with you some very real present-day things we run up against as we talk about the complete goodness of Jesus Christ and a radical response to it. Paul is saying, "Don't go back to dead systems. Jesus came to set you free. Follow him." Men like religious systems because:

1._ It makes them feel like they are in control_. "Just tell me what I have to do and I'll do it, man. I then will control my own destiny. I don't have to worry that I'm not getting it done. You just tell me. Do I have to read this many hours a day? Do I have to give this much of my money? If I can do it, then I can get it done." That, by the way, leads to the second one.

2._ It feeds their pride_. It feeds what I like about myself, which is that I must not be that bad, and because I'm not that bad I'm sure I can do something to fix my own predicament. I don't need mercy. I just need to get 'er done. I need to get after it. Men like having control. Men like believing they're not that bad and they can fix the problem they have created.

Men do not like looking at somebody, laying their head in their lap, and saying, "Forgive me, and if you don't lift my head up, I am a dead man." We want to rationalize that what we've done is not that bad. We want to believe if we just buy a couple dozen roses and give you a couple of extra days off, that ought to get 'er done.

3._ It allows them to feel no obligation to anyone or anything other than their system. Folks, I see this as one of the reasons the dead church is so popular today. You guys hear me talk about the dead church and go, "Why is that guy all over the dead church?" The same reason Paul was. People love control. God says, "You're not _in control."

People love to believe they're not that bad. God says, "You are so totally depraved I don't care what you do; you will never be acceptable in my sight." This is the big issue. As long as you think you're doing God a favor, as long as you think you're earning your salvation, then you don't owe anything to anybody. You've met the measure. You've got it done, and you can move on and do what you want.

There are a lot of people who go, "I can live however I want Monday through Friday. If I have to sit down and talk with a holy man on Saturday through a screen and tell him something and then go through certain acts of penance, that's fine. I've paid the piper. Leave me alone. Don't tell me it should affect the way I act on Friday night or Monday morning. I don't owe anybody anything except I realize if I do this, if this is the system we've invented, that I have to pay this price to get to do this and still feel clean."

What God is trying to say is, "I don't want you to perform for me. I don't want you to pay me back." That's why he says in the Old Testament, "Do you really think when you sin I need a barbecue dinner? Do you really think I need bulls and goats? Do you think I need money? Everything is mine. The cattle on a thousand hills are mine. I own the earth and all that is in it," says the Lord.

"Do you think for a second I need your sacrifices and gifts? What a joke. I am God. If I need your gifts, don't worship me. Do you get that? But if I have given you what you can't otherwise provide, then love me. The reason I want you to love me is not because I'm insecure but because I love you and I am good, and if you love anything but me it's going to cost you. Do you get that?"

All God is trying to say is, "Don't love anything but me." Why? "Not because it's going to ruin my world. It will hurt me as a Father, but I'm going to get over it. I'm going to grant you your wish. If you want nothing to do with the family, I'll grant you that wish for eternity, but you'd better know the reason I'm pursuing you with a father-like love is because I want you, as my child, to experience life. Life only comes in relationship with me." I think men like old religious systems because it allows them to cut God in when they want to cut him in and cut him out and feel like they owe nothing to anybody. I really believe that.

4._ It's acceptable to others. Nobody is really offended when you come up with your own system and say, "This is _our system. Whatever your system is, let it be." I know for a fact that there are some large dead churches around here that if you go to them and say, "I want to believe I am saved by faith alone in Jesus Christ," they'll go, "That's great. We have no problem with that, but just don't go around telling everybody else that's what they need. Let them all find their own way. Let's not be exclusivists. Let's not make Jesus too necessary. Let's not even preach that here. Let's just all get along. Let's not stir this thing up." Really.

"You do what you want or you think needs to be done to appease God. I'll do what I think needs to be done, and we'll just all get along." Ecumenicalism at its finest. That is great if we're talking about nutrition. You want curry? Curry. You want Cajun spice? Cajun spice. You want your bird raw? Raw. Eat your chicken. We aren't talking about nourishment here; we're talking about redemption before a holy God. There is only one meal you can eat of to find life, and that's what Jesus said. "This is my body. You'd better eat it, because if you eat anything else you're going to die."

5._ It's familiar_. People always revert back to and love what is most familiar. I'm just going to throw this in there because I think it's fun to laugh. One of the things that has happened in the last 20 years in the church is there has been this incredible confusion between what God really wants in a worship community. There has been this traditional versus contemporary. People ask me all the time, "Is Watermark a contemporary church?" I go, "Do you mean we're trying to be relevant to today's people? I hope so."

I walk into some churches today, and they are thriving, awesome, functioning, perfect churches if it was 1950, and I mean that. I'm like, "Have you noticed some things have changed about the way people learn? Have you noticed things have changed about the way people dress? Some of the change is not good. Some of them are okay. Have you noticed the change in the kind of music people are listening to?"

I cannot believe the way people are fighting over how we express our love for God. What an insane argument. But there are people who say, "Hey, if we don't do it this way, then we're not worshiping correctly." I really believe that folks who are fighting like that, just like the folks who say, "If you don't worship God in this new way with bands and casual dress, then you don't really love God…" That is such nonsense.

I don't care if you use Gregorian chants. I don't care if you use hymns. I don't care if you use choirs and robes. If you love him in spirit and truth, I'm right there with you. Now we don't use that for this reason: we believe the language of this culture is not Gregorian chants, not hymns, and most folks aren't really relating to people who are separating themselves from others with robes and barriers and impressive adornment.

We're trying to say, "Hey, this is the music you're listening to, so let's use the music you're listening to to celebrate the God we want you to know." It's amazing how we do this. By the way, "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God," one of the hymns we should sing if we're really a true church… Do you know what that is? Martin Luther took a famous tune in beer halls of the day and put lyrics to it to teach people. We're fighting over the fact that we're not singing a German beer hymn.

Isaac Watts, one of the great hymn writers of the day… We are splitting churches because we don't sing Isaac Watts. Isaac Watts came home from church one day and said, "Dad, I'm through with church." "Why?" "Because the music is awful." His dad said, "Well, listen, Isaac. I've noticed you're pretty gifted in music. Why don't you write some songs that we want to sing?" So he wrote some songs that the church in that day, in that culture would want to sing.

Now we're doing the same thing with Isaac's songs. If Isaac was here he'd go, "Don't sing this stuff. Sing in the language of the day, but don't compromise who you're singing to and what you're singing about." That's what it's all about. Do you know why people love certain systems and orders of worship and say, "This is what spiritual people do"? Because it makes them feel like they're loving and honoring God by that system and form of worship. God says, "I couldn't care less about your form. I want your heart."

Now this is why the neurosis of men who love religious systems is met by the neurosis of leaders and people in position who love to feed them that. I'll give you two reasons why religious leaders like religious systems.

1._ It validates what they have always done, and there is no need to apologize that what we've done is maybe needing to be improved_. If there is no need to look at our old religious system and the way we're telling you to move forward with God and to fully engage with him, then I don't need to ask your forgiveness as a leader who maybe hasn't done it right.

What the Judaizers missed is there was no need to ask forgiveness for the way they pursued God by faith in the Old Testament because that was a system God put in place as a precursor to teach people, "You are sinful. I am holy. Innocent blood must be shed in order to bridge that gap. There's nothing you can do except trust in my gracious provision for you, which for a long time is going to be a sacrificial system which shows you that there is a God who is holy and the wages of sin is death and if there's not a good and perfect sacrifice I will not accept you."

So there were continual sacrifices, because those sacrifices, though they were the best of the flock, were not perfect, so they couldn't appease a perfect God. He was telling you, "You really need a good Savior. You really need a good sacrifice." Jesus shows up. "I am the perfect Lamb of God." So there's nothing wrong with what they did. It's just time now to embrace what is there. In other words, it was right to pursue the picture of what was to come in the Old Testament, but now the presence of God is here in Jesus Christ.

I have some pictures around my house of my wife and me that I love. It would be insane for me to walk in that house, grab the picture, and go, "It's so good to see you again" when she's standing right there. I don't need to apologize for the picture. I don't need to say it was wrong to adore that picture, but if I can be with her today, that would please her a bit more than me just carrying a picture everywhere and talking about how great that picture was and "Remember when…"

2._ It continues to give them power and position over people. It's job security. If I tell you I have the way, the truth, and the life to heaven and if you're separated from me you're going to hell, that is a very, very powerful position to be in, and men love power and love prominence. Let me just tell you something. You could never walk into Watermark again or listen to a word I speak, and if you love Jesus Christ and follow him, you are fine. You don't need _me to get right with God. I hope I serve you to grow in your understanding of who God is and how to respond to him.

Now, Paul hates religious systems because they affect the glory of God, the deity of Christ, and the sufficiency of the cross. Anytime Daddy is minimized or misrepresented, it upsets the Son, because he knows his Father is good and the more people who are part of his family, the more they can be blessed and share in the inheritance, the one true inheritance. So he said, "You can do whatever you want to me, but I'm not going to let you dabble with who my God is, how he is revealed in Jesus Christ, and how Jesus accomplished everything we need on the cross." That's the purpose of the book.

He says, "Not only do I love God, but God loves you, so I love those God loves. I love others. When you introduce religious systems that seem right to men but in the end are the way of death, that affects the destiny of those God loves, and that will get my ire up." If anything other than those two things is ruining your world, then you are focusing on less than God says you should be focused on.

Verse 6: "But from those who were of high reputation…" When Paul is talking here about Peter and James, he goes, "When I went down and met with those who were of reputation…" Now he says, "They were of high reputation. Not in my mind," he's going to throw out there, "because men are men, but the Judaizers, those who are coming behind me telling me they need Jesus plus works… Those men love Peter and James, so I met with those men who are of high reputation."

"…(what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—well, those who were of reputation contributed nothing to me." In other words, "They didn't add anything to what I was telling you. I don't need to come back now and say, 'What I told you was good, but Peter and James wanted me to add this to the message of grace.' It didn't happen."

Verse 7: "But on the contrary, seeing that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised…""Peter was preaching primarily to the Jews. I was asked to go preach to the non-Jews." "…(for He who effectually worked for Peter in his [being sent forth] to the circumcised effectually worked for me also to the Gentiles)…"

"We both were talking about the same thing: the necessity of Jesus, the irreplaceability of Jesus, the uniqueness of Jesus, the perfection of Jesus, the completeness of the work on the cross. That's what Peter was saying to the Jews. It's what I was saying to the Gentiles."

Verse 9: "…and recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James and [Peter] and John, who were reputed [by these men who are accusing me] to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, so that we might go to [you, the uncircumcised, and talk to you about what they're talking about to the circumcised. So don't let them come and tell you you need to do anything other than trust in Jesus and respond to him]."

Let me make this very clear to you. The gospel of Jesus plus anything is a false gospel. That means Jesus plus baptism is a false gospel. Now watch. Be very careful here. We've made a big deal about this coming baptism. Baptism is the first act of obedience as an outward expression of your inward love relationship with God. God will not love you more if you're baptized, but if you love him, it's the first way he tells you to express your love for him.

You will not go to heaven because you're baptized. In fact, there are people who have been baptized to go through a rite, a practice, a sacrament, who have gone through baptism as an act of religious performance who are not going to heaven, but those of us who have found that God has provided for us everything we need on the cross…

He says, "Identify yourself with my cross so the world would know that I love people and, as your life is transformed, they would identify the transforming presence of me in your life with my finished work on the cross so they can run to that cross. Identify yourself with my death and burial." That is why we love submersion. It's the clearest picture. You disappear in the grave just like Jesus.

You identify yourself with his death, but the resurrection power of God now fills your life as you walk with him. His Spirit is with you and in you and on you, and as your life is transformed and changed, people go, "Do you know why that life is different? Because that's one of those folks who identifies himself with Jesus." Do you see why he tells you to do that because you love him?

He's saying, "Wear your jersey. Live well so folks will know Jesus is who he said he was." The ultimate sign of the New Testament believer is not baptism; it is love. He says, "Brother, if we don't have love, they're going to think we're not his disciples, or worse yet, they're going to think Jesus is not from God. So if you're going to get baptized and not love, go ahead and get baptized, but get loving other people so folks will know I'm who I said I was."

Jesus plus baptism is not the gospel. Jesus plus sacraments, confirmation, the Eucharist, holy call, last rites, philanthropy, confession, penance is not the gospel. Jesus minus R-rated movies is not the gospel. Jesus minus smoking is not the gospel. Jesus minus having a glass of beer is not the gospel. It is bondage.

Now, if you love God and you don't want to do anything to discredit God, you have to ask yourself, "If I dress this way, will it honor God and give glory to him or will it give glory and honor to me? If I smoke this cigarette and I say this is the only body God has given me on this earth to give glory to him and to serve him, will it weaken this body and show disrespect to that which God created?

Will it put tar and nicotine in my lungs and give me fewer days to give glory to him on this earth? If I drink and alcohol is a means through which many people are brought into bondage and what they see me do in moderation, as a follower of Christ, they'll do in excess, is it wise that I drink?" But I don't need to drink or not drink, smoke or not smoke, dress in a very conservative way or not for God to love me.

Everything I put on, everything I put in my mouth, everything I let come out of my mouth is an expression of whether I love God or not, but don't make it the gospel. People think if they don't drink, don't smoke, don't go to certain kinds of movies, do go to certain acts of baptism, do go to certain places for confession, do get a certain thing said over them at their grave, then they're going to heaven. No, they're not. They are rightly related to God if they trust in the only provision God has said is acceptable. That's why it's a big deal.

Is this a relevant book? Do you know why you won't preach Jesus alone? Because it will upset your friends. "You bigot. You arrogant, intolerant… Who are you?" Answer: "I'm a nobody, but let's look at what Jesus said together. If you think I'm crazy, your problem is not with me; your problem is with Jesus." That's why you have to know your Bible. That's why you have to know your Jesus: so you can take people to him.

Verse 10: "They only asked us to remember the poor—the very thing I also was eager to do." Let me just say this. You don't need a soup kitchen or a thrift shop to fulfill verse 10. People will say, "Where's our soup kitchen at Watermark? Where's our thrift shop?" He just said, "The very thing I was eager to do. In fact, the reason I went down to Jerusalem was to love and give grace to the poor."

What he's saying is Peter just said, "Paul, as you go to the Gentiles, there are some Gentiles who have it going on. They are rocking. Don't be a respecter of persons, Paul. Be an observer of needs. Paul, just remember that the final sign of our relationship with God is our love for all people, not the rich and the famous and the great. In fact, you'll find the rich and the famous and the great are going to be the enemies of us more often than not. Just remember the needs of the poor. Don't be a respecter of persons. Do be an observer of needs. You do need an attentive heart.

I don't care, Paul, what you do on Saturday. I don't really care what you do eight days after you're born. I do care that every day you love God and love others. If there are needs around you that you can meet physically, meet them. If there are needs around you can meet emotionally, meet them. If there are needs around you can meet spiritually, meet them. Love people, rich or poor, black or white, slave or free. Love people. Have an attentive heart." Paul says, "It was the very thing I was eager to do." Boy, did he ever show it with his life.

Acts, chapter 2, verses 44-45. This is the early church. "And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need." This is not socialism. It didn't say everybody lived in the same amount of square footage or drove the same car. This is not communism.

This is a group of people following the example of their servant leader, who when he had means through which he could love and bless others, he took those means and cared for them. So ought we. I have said it many times. I'm going to say it again. If you are in need, no matter how decrepit and hurt you are, we're going to make sure, whether you know Christ or not, that you get a place of shelter, a place for food, and a place that you can be sustained until you come to your senses. We're not going to make it very comfortable, but we're going to make it so you can live.

If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, a part of this community, walking with us in the context of relationship and obedience, we will not allow you to ever be homeless. We won't just give you three hots and a cot. We'll give you a home. We'll give you a place that you can raise your family and love your kids the way we love our kids. It doesn't mean every kid is going to go to the same college. It doesn't mean every kid is going to drive the same car or dress in the same clothes.

I'm just telling you if you, as a parent, feel like you cannot provide for your family the way God would have you provide for your family and you're a member of this body, then what we have is what is yours to meet the needs of your family, if you're functioning in this community. We've said it many times, and it is true. Love those who are out there.

What we're not going to do is just give free handouts to folks who are on the con. Second Thessalonians 3 tells us to be careful not to do that, but we will love each other and we will make sure we aren't just saying, "I'm sorry you don't have what we have up here in the north. I hope you make it through the famine."

We are individuals who God has not sent to the Jews, not sent to the Gentiles, but he has sent you somewhere. If you are not responding faithfully, then just like the folks in the region of Asia and Galatia would have suffered because Paul didn't do what he was supposed to do, just like those in Judea would have suffered if Peter didn't do what he was supposed to do, there are men and women today who are suffering if you're not doing what you're supposed to do as a person that God says, "It's your turn."

Do you know the gospel? Does it get you worked up when people don't understand who God is, who Jesus is, and what he finished on the cross? Does it get you worked up when people are uncaring about the destiny of men? Do folks look at your life and go, "Hey, that person who has identified themselves with Jesus? That person loves others. He is attentive to emotional, physical, and spiritual needs."

It isn't easy. That's why so many people after they're here for a while go, "Look. I just want to go to church. Leave me alone." I was talking to my buddy who does a lot of our exit interviews when folks who were members leave here. There are a number of folks who are leaving Watermark for, I would call, the right reason. They go, "Hey, you guys take this thing about responding to Jesus a little too seriously. We just want to go somewhere where we can show up and be left alone."

Can I tell you something? We're not Bally's. We don't just want your membership dues. We are men who are going to give an account for your souls, so we're going to have a conversation with you. If you're not showing up at the gym, we're going to say, "Hey, you know what? You probably tell your folks you're a member of our gym over here, but we have not seen you for six months. Would you please stop paying dues so people won't think that folks who are part of our health and care system here look like and feel like you feel?"

If we see you in the gym going through the motions, pedaling about two miles an hour, we're going to walk up and put our hand on your back and go, "How can we help you? It looks like you want to be getting well. That's not the ticket to get well." Some people go, "Hey, leave me alone. I want to be able to tell my friends I'm a part of a gym. Leave me alone. I want to be on a bike doing something so I can tell myself I'm doing what I'm supposed to do."

God says, "Don't leave each other alone. Spur each other on to love and good deeds." So we're calling you to these things, not so you'll go to heaven but so you can experience the life now if you have a relationship with the God who is in heaven. It's not Jesus plus these things will get you there, but Jesus causes a response that says you have a real relationship with the God of heaven.

He is more than enough, and if you know that, you'll get after fulfilling the workmanship he created in you and prepared for you beforehand that you should walk in it, and we're here to help. If you don't know Christ, will you come? If you know him and you're not a part of a gym, a culture that will spur you on to love and good deeds, will you come? If you're a part of this culture, will you join me in spurring me on and asking others to spur you on so that the health of the body of Christ can be seen in you to God's glory and for your good? Amen?

Father, I thank you for my friends. As we walk out of here in worship today, I pray that we would focus, Lord, on a right response to your gospel. I thank you, Lord, for the great message that Jesus alone is the means through which we can be rightly restored in relationship with you, and I pray now that we would not be then conformed to the world but we would be transformed by the renewing of our minds so we might prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. For your glory and our good we pray, amen.

Have a great week of worship.


About 'Galatians: The Long Arm of the Law'

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.