A Right Response to a Wrong Way of Thinking

Galatians: The Long Arm of the Law

Paul confronts Peter for leading new Christians into a Judaized - and therefore legalistic - form of worship. Peter and his brothers had lost sight of the fact that Christ died to fulfill the law and to free us from bondage to law.

Todd WagnerMay 20, 2007Galatians 2:11-21; Galatians 2:11-15; Proverbs 12:15; Galatians 2:17

We are in a little book called Galatians. It's one of those books that you kind of read and go, "What does that have to do with me today?" One of the reasons I love to grab sections of Scripture and just tear through them verse by verse is to show you that this book is living and active, that God loves you and is trying to teach you some things that will make your life more full, more complete. You're going to recognize some things about yourself in here. There are some things we, as a body, need to learn from right here. So we're just tearing through it.

We're calling this little series Long Arm of the Law: And How to Escape Its Threat to Your Life. What we've been looking at, if you haven't been with us, is how there was a group of individuals who had come alongside a group of people who had just heard about what Jesus had done, and they were starting to tell him, "We're not really sure that you love God, because you don't look like we think you should look."

Not in terms of them being obedient to live in relationship with God in a way that God says a relationship should be lived, but they were saying, "You can't be in relationship with God unless you do these things." Specifically, not just to grow in your Christlikeness but to be somebody who could ever be righteous in God's eyes. That is a huge distinctive. Let me unpack it for you as we go a little farther.

We are in Galatians, chapter 2, verses 11-21. Let's just read it and start to look at it. It's going to start with a guy who you would never think would be somebody who would need to be admonished. It is Peter. Peter is one of the guys who hung out with Jesus and who Jesus showed, "Hey, look. You grew up in a system where God was revealing himself to you in a very specific way. Here is what God has shown you."

What Jesus told them is, "The law shows you that you're not who God wants you to be. The wages of not being who God wants you to be is separation from God. God is the author and giver of life. If you're separated from the author and giver of life, there's no life for you in terms of your temporal experience and also in terms of your long-term relationship with God.

So you have a problem. The law is not bad. The law is good. The law shows you what God wants. I'm going to fulfill the law. I'm going to show you how to live a life that is glorious. I don't owe the law anything, but because I love you I'm going to pay the debt you have to the law, which is death." Peter and the apostles were the guys who took that message.

What happens, though, is when you grow up thinking a certain way for a long time it's not easy to start thinking a different way. I'll give you a really simple example of this. Some good friends of mine have a couple of boys. These boys have both grown up around their dad and mom loving sports. This is a home that bleeds orange.

If you grow up around Texas, I mean, you're really truly a Texan family and were educated in public schools in Texas, you either bleed orange or you bleed maroon. I know a lot of you guys went to other schools, but everybody kind of falls in one of those two camps, primarily. This is a fun little illustration that will set you up for why some things are so hard for us. We'll do it very quickly.

What happened was these boys grew up loving football, loving sports and football, but they didn't know what they really grew up loving was orange football. They didn't think maroon football was legitimate. What's happening is that one of the boys has a daddy who happened to play orange football very well.

What that boy doesn't think about very often… Even though home bleeds orange, granddaddy played maroon football, but that's a generation gone by. "We're an orange football family. We talk orange. We think orange. We bleed orange." Now one of these boys is a very gifted athlete, and chances are he's going to get to play football on a very large stage, maybe an orange or maroon stage. In fact, all of a sudden, the possibility that older brother is going to play maroon football is starting to present itself.

The younger brother is going, "Wait a minute. I thought I loved my brother playing football, but I have to get used to the idea that it might be maroon football, because I didn't think maroon football was legitimate. Only orange football is legitimate. How can we ever pull for maroon football?" What he is finding out is that maybe he didn't love his brother playing football; he loved his brother playing orange football, when really what mattered is the love of the game.

Now why do I set all that up? I think it's going to give you a little sensitivity to one of the things that one of the leaders we're about to meet today struggled with, as well as maybe some of the stuff we struggle with when we start to have certain sects and definitions of what real football is. What God is calling you to is a real relationship with him.

There might be orange football, there might be maroon football, but you have to make sure it's about football. Don't drag what you're used to into the game, because it messes up the game. Now here's what's going on in our analogy. There are some folks who grew up understanding that the way you approach God is by doing the things God said you needed to do as an expression of your confidence that his grace would be available to you.

Here's the deal. A lot of folks ask this simple question a lot…How can people in the Old Testament be saved? The answer is the same way people in the New Testament are saved: by having faith in God's goodness to allow them to be forgiven for what they cannot do. In other words, the law was there, but built into the law was a provision for people to be made acceptable to God when they didn't fulfill the law.

God said, "Just so you know, these things you're going to do really don't satisfy me…your goats and your bulls, your sacrifices, your festival practices, your dresses and your washings. I don't need hygienically clean people. I don't need people who eat certain foods. I don't need you to sacrifice certain bulls or goats. I'm not concerned about that. Those are expressions of your acknowledging where you are not the kinds of people I want. So you have faith that I will be merciful to people who don't deserve mercy."

When Jesus came, he said, "All those things are fine and good, but I'm about to provide a means through which God can be pleased, not with bulls and goats but with a perfect sacrifice that perfectly meets the requirement of his holiness: me." So people embraced Jesus, and they felt delivered from performing very intricate washings and ceremonies and calendar observances, but it was hard for them to believe that this belief in Jesus was going to be enough.

So when there were people who didn't grow up with calendars and festivals and washings and certain food groups as things that made you acceptable to God… When they heard these people embrace the Jesus they embraced, they went, "Yeah, but they don't do these orange things." God is saying, "Hey, all I really care about is that you play with me."

But there were folks who grew up thinking, "Orange is the way you do it," and God says, "No, no, no. Sports is the way you do it, relationship with me." So they were coming and trying to make these new maroon believers go back and adopt some orange practices. That's what's going on here. Now watch this.

"But when Cephas [Peter] came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned." This is an amazing thing. Peter, this guy who embraced Jesus first, couldn't get over that there were going to be some people eventually who didn't do things the way he had always done them in addition to embracing Jesus.

"For prior to the coming of certain men from James…" That means there was a group of folks who prided themselves in being a group of followers of one of the brothers of Jesus, James. We know from Acts 15 that James didn't agree that you had to practice ceremonial observances and circumcision and things of that sort, which were Old Testament ways of acknowledging that you were learning who God was. James didn't believe that, but they called themselves "men from James."

He used to hang out with these believers who didn't ever eat kosher foods, who never followed certain calendar observances, many of whom weren't circumcised, but when those guys who did observe calendars, who did eat certain foods, who did go through certain ceremonial cleansings came, he began to withdraw from these people who just embraced sport, embraced Jesus, and held himself aloof, fearing that these people who grew up in this system would no longer see him as somebody they could follow as a spiritual leader if he hung out with people who just loved Jesus and the cross.

What happens is that the rest of the Jews, other Jews in this region go, "You know what? These guys are coming from Jerusalem, and they're telling us we've lost some of our Jewish distinctiveness and that because of that we're not really people God loves." So they left the people who really just loved God and his fulfillment of provision for them, who is Jesus Christ, the fulfillment of the law, Jesus Christ the perfect sacrifice, everything the Old Testament pointed to.

The picture that was there you can do away with. These guys said, "No, no. Embrace the person, but hold onto the picture. You have to do these things. Otherwise, you really don't know God and love God." So God was saying, "No, just know me, the person. The picture you can now put away because I've come to fulfill it."

Peter was hanging out with people who just loved the person. People who loved the picture and the person came along and said, "You'd better adopt the picture," and they all moved back, even a guy named Barnabas, who was a great encouragement to Paul and was actively proclaiming the gospel of "Just love the person" for a long time.

So this is what Paul did. Paul says, "But when I saw their hypocrisy, that they were not straightforward about the truth of what it really meant to know God, I said to Peter in the presence of everyone, 'If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles…'" You have to understand this. I'm going to go back to my crazy analogy for a second.

"Hey, Peter, you love football, and when those Longhorn fans weren't around, you just watched football. In fact, I saw you week after week cheering for the Aggies. Now that some old Texas fans came, you don't want to just watch football. You go, 'Aggie football is not football. We just watch Longhorn football.'

You quit watching football with those Aggies, and all you did is go over here and say, 'If we're not watching Longhorn football, we're not watching football. Aggie football is illegitimate football. It's D3. It's NAIA. It's high school.'" See, you're laughing because some of y'all believe that and go, "What's his point? I'm confused."

He said, "Peter, you love sport, and if you act like these guys don't love sport now that these fans are here, then you're confusing what this is all about: our common love for sport, our common love for God." Now watch. "…how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?""You're telling them, 'If you loved sport, you'd do it this way. You'd wear orange.'"

He said, "We are Jews by nature and not sinners from among the Gentiles…" In other words, "We grew up loving orange football, but we realized orange football wasn't what God was after. He was after a perfect execution of what it meant to live life on the field, and that can only be found in Jesus, not in orange pursuit of Jesus."

What he's saying is, "We always knew this wasn't the way to do it, because we had to embrace Jesus to get done what God wanted us to get done. So why would we go back to these guys who have embraced Jesus and make them do the thing we said didn't get it done?" Okay. Parenthetical application. Are you ready? This is amazing. This is Peter who made this mistake. Peter is the one who was starting to go back and add things to the gospel that really were not to be added at all.

I wrote down a few observations. First, all of us have the propensity to make decisions that cause other people to stumble. Here's a dead reality. I don't know of any place in the world that you can go today that folks are going to say, "You can join our church if you're circumcised. Drop trou. Let's see if you can join here." I don't know anyplace that says, "Hey, unless you observe this calendar festival system, you cannot be a member of this church."

I don't know anybody who says, "Unless you eat these foods, you cannot be a part of this church." The things the Judaizers were doing are kind of hard to drag into our world today. Now I want to make it very clear: Paul was not against circumcision. He was probably circumcised. I'm not a Jew. All of my boys are circumcised. It makes sense, but if you choose not to be circumcised, it's neither here nor there. Circumcision or uncircumcision doesn't matter. It didn't matter to Paul, though he was probably pro-circumcision.

We find out in the book of Acts Paul followed the Jewish calendar because it was familiar to him, but he said, "I don't care if you don't." Paul took Jewish oaths because he was Jewish, but he goes, "If you don't want to, it doesn't matter to me. It matters to me that you love Jesus." We don't do those things because we didn't grow up orange, but here are some things we do. We say, "If you don't sing this way, you must not really love God. If you don't dress this way, you must not really love God."

Or over on this side, "If you're still singing that way and you're not singing this way, you guys don't really love God. You guys are all too tied up in how you look. If you don't dress casually, you're just too tied up. You don't really love God." Dress and song isn't the thing. Do you love God? Do you love Jesus? That's the thing. Some of you grew up in churches where if you smoke cigarettes, you don't love God. If you drink, you don't love God.

It would be like me hanging out with some friends who would choose to have wine with dinner, and when I'm with them I'm okay and I have wine with dinner with them, but then there are some other guys who come along and go, "Hey, you should never, ever drink alcohol." When they come around, they're going to say, "Are you eating dinner with those folks who ordered wine with dinner?"

And I go, "No. No, not really," and I'll just start hanging out with them. When they're around I'll go, "Those people over there… Can you believe it? They say they love Jesus. They have wine and they smoke a cigar after dinner. I know, I know. They might even go see a movie. They go to movies. Some of them dance. I know, I know. I'm with you. I'm over here. They're not brothers."

There was about to be a division with Jewish Christianity and Gentile Christianity, and God said, "Are you kidding me? There is Christianity." Now, are there reasons to not drink? Sure. Are there reasons to not smoke? I can think of many. Are there reasons to not watch certain things that are going to influence the way you think? Certainly. Are there reasons to not dance certain ways that are going to elicit certain hormonal responses? Certainly.

Let's talk about those things in terms of the wisdom, but let's make sure we don't ever say that the salvific measurement is, "If you do these things or don't do these things, these are what make you meritorious in God's eyes." Let's talk all day long about whether or not something is profitable, but let's not confuse what the gospel is. The gospel is not what you do or don't do to make God love you. The gospel is what God has done.

"Do you embrace Jesus?"


"Okay. Now that you've embraced Jesus, let's talk about what Jesus has said about how we should respond to our embracing of him."

I want to go a little bit further. Let's take my Catholic friends. I don't really care if you want to baptize your child. Just don't tell me it's meritorious. I don't really care if you want last rites. Just don't tell me it's necessary for salvation. I don't really care if you want to get married in a Catholic church. Don't tell me it's necessary for salvation. I don't really care if you want to look through a screen and tell somebody what you've done.

I don't care if you want to go through some beads and say some things, but don't tell me they're meritorious. In fact, I would even tell you some of the things you're doing that you think make yourself righteous in God's eyes, I can show you scripturally I don't see the support for it. If you want to worship God by every day going to church, if you want to worship God through certain practices during certain seasons, okay, but don't tell me it's what makes you righteous in God's eyes.

What makes us righteous is our response to Jesus alone. Some people will say, "It's Jesus plus these things," and I want to go, "Uh-oh." That's what Paul was getting after Peter about. Jesus plus anything is heresy. What Paul is going to take on right here is he's going to say, "Anything that threatens the glory of God, specifically the divinity and sufficiency of Jesus Christ and the completeness of his provision on the cross, is unacceptable, and I will speak out against it. This is about the glory of God and about those God loves, the destiny of man."

So he has taken on Peter. He's going, "Peter, you're confusing people. You're telling these Gentiles that Jesus isn't enough, that they also need to be circumcised, they also need to eat kosher foods, and they also need to observe certain calendar events. Nuh-uh. They may want to. You can tell them how these things predicted Christ and are a great way to worship God, but don't make it essential. Jesus is essential."

One of the things you have to say about even within Catholicism… This is not a message on Catholicism. If you want to hear a great hour on Catholicism, we just did an entire Saturday night to our Equipping ministry, which you can pick up, and it answers questions. Catholic? Protestant? Differences? Uniquenesses? What do they believe? What is biblical? What isn't? And just walk through it. Let the Catholics speak for them. Let the Christians speak for them.

Even when they go through what's called Mass, Catholics believe that Mass is a continual provision for the sins of folks that are being atoned for on a continual basis, that the body and blood of Christ are actually being sacrificed for you. No. It is finished. When we take Communion, we're doing something other than when they're taking Communion. We don't believe it's meritorious or necessary for salvation. We believe it's an expression of our salvation.

Just like within Church of Christ. Many of them will tell you that you have to be baptized to be saved. No. We get baptized, but our baptism isn't to earn our salvation; it is an expression of the salvation that is accomplished when you trust in the perfect provision of Jesus. These are dividing-line issues. See Galatians. If the pope were here, I'd say, "You're confusing folks. I love you, but if it's not about Jesus alone, we're going to have to protest. We're going to have to reform what you're saying."

That is why Martin Luther called Galatians his "wife." This is the book that unlocked the Reformation out of the legalism of performance the world was trapped in to the freedom of following in relationship with God. Now, all of us have the propensity to make folks stumble. We have to ask ourselves what we are doing that might make folks stumble. What are the things we're adding?

I just want to say this. You have to differentiate between needed behavior for spiritual development and needed beliefs or behavior for spiritual justification. There's a significant difference. Why is this important that I'm saying this? Because there are certain people who will tell you, "You have to do these things in order to be right in God's eyes." There is a huge distinction between what we do to become righteous or to merit God's favor and what has merit or what will be beneficial to us as we live our lives.

Christ plus anything is a false gospel. Where Peter is confronted, where Paul always stands up is when somebody dumbs down how good God is or how bad man is, when somebody says, "The cross is not sufficient. Jesus is not all you need." Paul says, "I have to speak up against that, because men's salvation is at stake and the glory of God is at stake."

Let me give you this statement another way. Not only that. I would add to that this statement. We must never forget that belief separated from behavior is belief of no value. In other words, when somebody says, "I believe in Jesus. I love Jesus. I want to follow Jesus," but it has no outworking in their life, then we have to say to them, "Okay, look. Is your belief ultimately a belief that is saving belief?"

This is what James is saying in chapter 2, verse 17. "Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself." One guy said it this way a long time ago: we are saved by grace through faith alone, but the faith which saves is never alone. It always has an outworking to it. That's what worship is. Worship is what we do in response to what God has done for us, but we never think our worship is what makes God love us.

God loved us while we were sinners, which is to say we worshiped nothing but ourselves and our own way and we marched toward death. That's when God pursued us. That's when Christ died for us and called men to follow him. Nothing we do earns God's love, but how we see God's love expressed through Jesus Christ is what determines whether we believe Jesus is who he said he was. We are saved by grace through faith alone, but the faith which saves is never alone.

Paul saw Peter being a gentleman who was starting to confuse what it was that made men right with God and starting to split the unity of the church. He spoke up and said, "No, Peter. No, Judaizers. We will not bring Judaism into Christianity, because it has never been about getting people to be Jews. It has always been about getting people to know God. To know Jesus is to know God, and we cannot trifle with that."

Secondly on this little idea of what Paul had to do with Peter, not all of us have people around us who love us enough to tell us the truth about our choices. When you say to a Catholic friend, a Church of Christ friend, a Mormon friend, a Jehovah's Witness friend, an Islamic friend, a liberal friend, "Hey, we have to talk about what you're doing with Jesus and the Scriptures," it creates some tension.

There was probably some tension with Peter. I mean, this is Peter, and Paul is saying, "Hey, Pete, what you're doing is really confusing the church, so I have to love you on this one." Most Pauls just go, "This is Peter. If Peter doesn't like me, if Peter takes me on, it can invalidate who I am as a person, because Peter is more powerful than I am, and Peter could throw me under the bus."

Paul said, "I don't care, because I'm not living to please Peter. I'm not living to run for mayor. I'm not living to be president. I am living to be faithful to God. If what I'm saying is inconsistent with God and his Word, okay; expose that, but I'm willing to love Peter enough, and if that makes me hated by the masses, so be it." That's boldness.

What's interesting is the Scripture says the reason Peter did what he did was because of fear that the Judaizers would say something about him. The reason most of us don't say something to Peter is because of fear. We fear men more than God. By the way, today spirituality is very, very popular. Spiritual seeking is in, but do you know what's not in? Spiritual finding.

Men love the journey, they love to debate, they love to talk, but when you start to say, "I've found it; this is the way," especially when your way strips people who want to control others from their power and says, "Hey, don't follow any man or any system. Follow God. Love him. Live in relationship with him. Don't live in fear that you're not going to meet the grade and that this group is going to say you're anathema to God. You live in fear of me, that you try and earn my favor when my standard is perfection.

You either take my perfect provision for your perfect need or I will judge you according to your works. But I just have to tell you, here's the standard: be perfect. You want to be judged according to works? I don't care how many times you bow to the east, how many times you abstain from certain foods. If in thought, word, action, and deed you didn't get it right 100 percent of the time, then you can't be wed to me unless grace covers you."

That's the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. When you teach that, there are going to be men who say, "Nuh-uh. We can all get along because we'll all take our own systems, but you come in and say, 'No, there's only one system.'" I would say, "Your argument is not with me; your argument is with Jesus. Now let's look at Jesus. Let's look at who he was. Let's look at what he said. Let's look at this crucifixion and resurrection event, and let's see what you want to do with that, but you have to decide if you are going to respond with Jesus.

I'm going to love you and tell you you can choose what you want, but if you scoff at what Jesus has said, you alone must bear it. If you are wise, you are wise for yourself. I'm not going to force my belief on you. I'm not going to kill you if you disagree with my belief. I'm going to tell you the consequences of it temporally and eternally."

Folks don't like that. There are a lot of men who shrink back from a clear declaration of the gospel, because men will always come against that and say, "You are intolerant, you are bigoted, and you are exclusivist, and we need to rid ourselves of men like you," no matter how much you try and do it in love, because it offends them.

Do you have friends who love you enough they're willing to risk losing their friendship with you to tell you the truth about some choices you're making? If you don't, you don't have a real friend; you have a selfish person who needs you to give them experiences and validation to give them security. They're not trusting ultimately in who God is, and they're really not a friend, because they worship and need from you something God says will not allow them to love you well.

How about this? Not all of us have the wisdom to listen to those who love us enough to tell us the truth about our choices. This is what Proverbs says about a wise man. Proverbs 12:15: "The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man is he who listens to counsel." You're going to find out that Peter went on and wrote an entire book, and the word grace is in every chapter. Peter responded to this conversation with Paul and stood up again, like he had before in Acts 11 against the Judaizing church and said, "Hey, it's Jesus alone. These Gentiles love God just like us. The Spirit of God is on them just like he's on us."

Then he wavered, then Paul admonished him, and then in Acts 15 Peter stands back up and says, "Let me just tell you something. Circumcision isn't the issue. You can be circumcised if you want. Probably makes some sense. You can eat this food if you want. Probably makes some sense, but that's not what makes us meritorious in God's eyes." He came right back. Peter listened.

Proverbs 13:1: "A wise son accepts his father's discipline, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke." Proverbs 15:31-32: "He whose ear listens to the life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise. He who neglects discipline despises himself, but he who listens to reproof acquires understanding." Proverbs 19:20: "Listen to counsel and accept discipline, that you may be wise the rest of your days."

All of us have the propensity to make mistakes. Few of us have friends who will tell us the truth, and probably even fewer of us are humble enough to listen. One of the greatest characteristics a godly person can have is teachability, because it takes humility to be teachable, and humble men are the ones God exalts.

I was talking to Gary about that this week. The very first day he was on staff full time at Watermark… Gary is a guy who is leading with me at a significant level. We'd just had a meeting between the elders and myself where the elders were coming around me related to some of the ways I was letting an aspect of our Sunday morning service get out of hand in terms of timing. They felt like, "Todd, we have to tighten the ship here a little bit just for the sake of a lot of things." We went back and forth on that.

Finally, it had gotten to a level where we needed to get together and talk about that one more time. I invited in all of the guys who were senior leaders with me at the church, and we sat in that room, and Gary just couldn't believe. He goes, "They really took Todd on in that and tried to love him through that and grow him in that." It was really, really, really painful, and we had some very honest conversations, give-and-takes back and forth.

They said, "Todd, we're for you, man, but this is an area you can excel still more." Gary walked out of there and said, "Man, I am so in. Todd, if you think that makes me respect you less because you just got undressed a little bit like that, I have to tell you I'm ready to follow you more than ever, because I see you as a man under authority who's humble and teachable." I'm still wrestling with this. I can do better, but I have guys who are saying, "This is an area we can do better in."

I want to be teachable. I think a lot of people think that's not something I am. I'm a very strong personality. I am. That's why I need strong men. I need Pauls around me who love me. I have them. If you see me somewhere, you be that friend to me. I promise you I will seek to do the same for you. You're not looking to expose me and go, "Aha!" You're looking to go, "Hey, I can help you. That flavor of that response looked a little less like Jesus than I think you want it to be, and I know you to be a godly man. Let me sharpen you." Isn't that great? Isn't that loving?

There are some folks who are looking at me and want to find "Ahas" and go, "Hypocrite!" When I make a mistake, I'm not a hypocrite. I am a guy who wants to be what Jesus wants me to be, and if I fail, the way I respond in my failures is going to show you I'm serious about that. Now there are certain levels of failures leaders can make that disqualify them for leadership. By the grace of God, we haven't gotten near them, but if I do, we'll deal with that, and this church won't be shaken because it's about Jesus, not me.

Now watch. The men said to him in verse 17, "But if, while seeking to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have also been found sinners, is Christ then a minister of sin?" In other words, there were two things going on here. What some people were saying was, "Paul, if you tell them that Jesus alone is the means through which they'll be right with God, men are going to run amok. They're going to go crazy. They will have no reason to be good."

Paul is saying, "No, that's not right. You guys don't understand the power of love. You're still trapped with performance under the law, and God is saying love is infinitely more powerful than the law. All the law did was show you you need a loving God or you're in deep trouble. The truth is that if you tell people they need the law, then what you're doing is sinning by previously professing about Christ, because if the law is what makes men righteous then there was no good reason for Christ to die."

So he goes through and tells them he's not the one who's sinning by talking about Christ alone being the way you're right with God; they're sinning if they go back and try to rebuild what they once destroyed by preaching salvation by grace through faith alone. Let me give you some simple statements that will help you understand this. God is calling us into a relationship with him, not rituals performed for him. Here's why. It's because God understands that when our hearts are captured we'll be truly transformed.

God is after our hearts because he knows captured hearts transform selfish, destructive habits. Now, this is a statement I want to make about this. Selfish, destructive men don't like love. They want to do what they want to do. I wrote this out. I want to read it to you and then unpack it. To the rebel, following the rules is always more attractive than being constrained by love. Here's why: because they can make the rules. In other words, "This is good enough." Or they'll make the sacrifices necessary to atone for violating the rules tolerable, like this:

"Hey, if I don't commit adultery, if I don't divorce you, or if I do divorce you if I provide for the family that's good enough, or if I hurt your feelings, I don't love you the way you want to be loved, then the way to atone for that is get you flowers, get you a nicer car, increase your budget. That ought to be good enough, because the rule is I don't humiliate you, I don't bring home a venereal disease, I don't divorce you, I don't have an affair. If I don't love you the way you really want to be loved, tough."

The Bible is saying, "No. You love her the way Christ loved the church. There's no law about that. You give everything for her." What we want to do is dumb it down and say, "Oh, if I just don't do these things, that's enough." God is saying, "No, there's more." Here, I'll give it to you this way. Let me tell you why love is always better than the law. It is because, first, the law is only really effective when there's a fear of punishment.

If there's no fear of punishment, no one really obeys the law. That's why we have to have cops on the side of the road. If there's no fear of going over 55, we're going to do whatever we want to do, but that little inconvenience is going to make us drive 55. Love rules, though, not by having a guy on the side of the road but by fastening your heart to a person. I'll say it this way. I'll unpack this a little bit further. Law is effective only where the power of accountability is present, but love is effective everywhere the power of relationship is accounted for.

See, right now I'm raising my kids, and I don't want them to grow up in fear of consequence from me. I want them to know I love them and the reason I talk to them about the way they handle their body, the way they choose to watch certain movies and not watch certain movies, read certain things, look at certain things or not look at certain things, talk a certain way or not talk a certain way is not for fear of my backhand or not for fear of being restricted or grounded but because I love them and there's a consequence to doing it wrong that's going to bring about divisiveness and pain in their lives.

So when they leave me, when they're 18 and go out there and they go, "You know what? Now I can stay out as late as I want, do whatever I want with whomever I want, look at whatever I want, read whatever I want, intake whatever I want. Dad is not here. There's no consequence," their love for me and their knowing that I love them and don't want to see destruction come in their life is what will enable them to make choices that will be life-giving to them and won't be destructive to them.

This is what God is trying to say. "When you were a child and trying to figure out who I was, I gave you all kinds of rules because you didn't know any better, but those rules were only to show you that I was trying to keep you from destroying one another. What you need to know now is that I am a God who loves you and has your best interests in mind. I gave my life for you. I'm not looking to rip you off; I'm trying to set you free.

So here's the only rule now: Do what is an expression of love for me, not a furtherance of your flesh and indulgence. Do what is loving for me, glorifying to me, and serves others. Against these things there is no law." Do you get it? What God is trying to say is, "Love Christ alone. He's what makes you right in God's eyes, and know that I love you so I don't ask anything from you that doesn't have your best interests in mind, so love me. These things don't honor me when you're selfish, because I'm not a selfish God.

So why would you act in a way that's contrary to who I am if you're trying to honor me? Don't be self-promoting, because I'm not a self-promoting God. I'm a self-revealing God who's glorious so people can know me so they can benefit from the goodness of who I am. Let everything you do be done in love. Why are you doing this right now? Because it feels good to you? Because it's an outlet for your anger? Because it's a way for your flesh to find satisfaction? Or are you doing it because it's best for that person? That's the law."

Remember what Jesus was confronted with? "Hey, what's the most important law?" He said, "To love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and the second one is like it. You can't separate it. If you love God, you're going to love people. Love your neighbor as yourself. Against these two things there is no law. Every law and all the prophets come from this truth. So quit trying to earn my favor. Accept my sacrifice and love me, because I love you. I'm not trying to rip you off.

You think you're going to have a great time in the college of life by sleeping with whomever you want to and accumulating wealth for yourself and hurting other people. No, you won't. You'll make yourself an island. You'll spread disease and death and insecurity. There's no life there, and I love you. If you do that and you're still my son, will you be saved? Sure. But it's going to be so painful for you now. I want you to experience life now."

Last weekend we had a little celebration, and there were some folks who stood before folks and said, "I am a person now who's going through this outward expression of my faith in God, not to make God love me more but to show you that I love God and I am identified with his death, burial, and now the resurrection to a new life which I seek to live, and I'm declaring to you I want to be a follower of Christ.

So if you see me do anything that's inconsistent with my Father, tell me, because I don't want to hurt my Father. I have been crucified with Jesus by faith, and I want to now be dead to my flesh because dead men don't sin, and I want to live in the Spirit and the power of God. I will never say, 'God, I'm earning your favor by doing this.' He died because I was a sinner. He loved me when I was a sinner. He doesn't need me to do anything now, but I need to do everything I can to express my love for him."

That's why we worship. That's what worship is. That's what we're fixin' to embark on the rest of the week. Because I love him, I want to do the things he says will honor him, and dadgum if he's not so good that everything, every time, that he tells me is good for him, it blesses me, it blesses my wife, it blesses my kids, it blesses my community, it blesses my world, it blesses the poor, and it sets me up for eternity like I can't even imagine when he rewards the way we express our love for him.

It will never be rewarded with salvation, but we will be rewarded for the way we respond to that salvation. So he says, "Todd, it'll be good for you now and it'll be good for you then. It's a win-win, and you get to show me you love me." That's worship. I want to close with this great little statement by Richard, who shared his testimony publicly last week.

He said, "On November 18 of last year, I finally decided to accept Christ into my life, to trust in Jesus. Since becoming a member, my wife and I have only missed one service. I enjoy and look forward to going to Watermark every week because I know I'm going to learn something new. We are both on the Greeting Team. We're in Community Groups. We both attend discipleship and Equipping classes. I've done one or two. I'm doing three or four more.

Not only that, I've learned to spend time with God on a daily basis. I read the Journey every day. I've given God complete control over everything, but hear me: I don't do these things so God will love me; I do these things because I love God. I don't boast in these things; I boast in Christ alone and his provision for me." Do you see the difference? Those are not the things he has to do for God to love him. He figured it out. "God loves me, so I want to follow that God. He's my King, and he deals with my sin and gives me life."

So what do you do today? Are you trusting in anything other than Jesus Christ? Come to the cross and let him take away that yoke. Are you responding the way you should to the truth that he has died for you? Get around friends who can spur you that direction, not so you can be saved but so you can grow in your ability to honor him. You're going to be saved because the honorable Good One died for you if you trust in it.

The way you respond to that is all about worship and all about what makes your loving heavenly Father glorified among the nations. May we worship him well that way this week. We don't tell people, "If you love God, you join Watermark." We tell people, "If you love God, you submit to Jesus." If you add anything else to that, you're a heretic. Jesus says, "Find a place you can be encouraged." This is one of them. Worship him well this week. Take care.

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.