The gospel has and always will be about this one simple truth; a truth that has become a stumbling block for many people today......and that is the gospel is all about grace. Not just any "ole grace", but God’s perfect, abundant and unmerited grace that he gives to under-seeing sinners like you and me. It’s this one truth, that sets the bar to God relentless mercy and long-suffering that He has towards you and me. It’s this one truth that blows the mind of self-righteous man thinking to himself “how could God do such a thing.” As the Pharisee’s said “And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, "Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?" Mark 2:16. How could he sit and eat dinner with such wicked and evil people. Sadly, people then and now misunderstand this grace. This only creates confusion and ideas of ways to finding grace or working to win favor with God by our goodness. This letter Paul writes to the churches in Galatia, not just one church, but many as it says in the opening of Paul’s letter “To the churches in Galatia” (v2). This is a letter written in response to their sudden defection from the gospel of grace unto a gospel of works. In light of the surrounding events this letter is a rebuke and gentle reminder that Christians are free from legalism and bondage. This letter demonstrates that man is justified by faith alone. This letter demonstrates that man is saved by Christ alone. This letter demonstrates and defines the Christians response to this gospel, full of grace and liberty.
But this wasn't happening! Things were taking a turn for the worst kind……denying God’s grace and going back to their old ways of bondage and works. See these churches were ignorant, prone to fear and superstitious. Caesar once made this comment about them “they are fickle in their resolves, fond of change and not to be trusted.” Maybe Caesar said this because of what we read in Acts 14:6-20. Which talks about them healing a man who was crippled from birth and when the people saw this, they began to worship Paul and Barnabas as if they were gods. Acts 14:11-13. But the scripture says “But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out into the crowd, crying out, "Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. Acts 14:14-15. Theologian Lehman Strauss said this about those churches “they lacked two essential attributes of Christian character….spiritual discernment and steadfast determination.” We will see this numerous times over the course of letter! For example we see it in the opening (1:6)….and in (3:1), (3:3) and in (4:9). As it says “But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage?” Gal 4:9. This letter is vital to the Christian life and understanding the true gospel that saves sinners where there at….and this is only made possible through God’s overflowing grace.
Why is this vital? Unfortunately many were moving away from this grace and replacing it with works or legalism, which is what we would call “bondage”. See, the doctrine of works has long appealed to new believers who often desire to please God and attain holy living. A doctrine of faith, plus works was not uncommon in the church then with all the Judaizers and the same is happening today. And by thinking this way what we are doing is replacing the complete finished work of Christ with our good deeds to win favor with a holy God. This means…… its Jesus plus, what I bring to table. But this is the point! You bring nothing to the table. The only thing we bring to the table is our sin and Jesus by His own merit places our sin upon Himself to save us from ourselves.
See, the gospel of Jesus Christ is a gospel of pure grace. It is completely contradictory to the ideas that God needs my works in order to attain a holy life and eternal life. It’s the idea, that if I don’t do this or that then I may not have a seat at His table in the end. This is a different gospel and contradicts the true gospel that has been given to the saints once and for all through Jesus Christ alone. And to add anything to it is not complementary, it’s downright unbiblical and wrong. This letter is to remind us of the doctrine of grace and the gospel of Jesus Christ is all about grace.
In this letter we will see…….
- The issue of legalism
- The issue of Justification by faith
- The truth of Christian liberty
But will also see……
- The Gospel of grace defended (chapter 1 & 2)
- The Gospel of grace explained (chapter 3 & 4)
- The Gospel of grace applied (chapter 5 & 6)
But before we get digging deep into this wonderful letter to the church….We need to understand the two conflicting elements to this letter.
What is legalism and what is grace? We need to understand these truths in order to understand this letter. We need to understand these truths in order to understand why Paul wrote what he wrote. Paul’s audience and listeners were straying away from the doctrine of grace and replacing it with the false teaching of works righteousness. False teachers were coming in (Judaizers) who came teaching a different gospel and it was no gospel at all. The only thing their gospel led to was bondage and legalism. Acts 15:1 says “And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved." This was a problem and very confusing for new believers. See, Gentiles in Jerusalem were coming to faith in Christ, but a group of men were saying that in order for them to be accepted in the church (in order for them to be a Christian). These Gentiles needed to be circumcised like the Jews. But, Jesus came to save Jew and Gentiles alike and this was a different gospel. In Acts 15:7-11 it says “And when there had been much dispute, Peter rose up and said to them: "Men and brethren, you know that a good while ago God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they." What Peter preached was the opposite of what these false teachers where saying to the churches. They were teaching a gospel of bondage and legalism, set out by the Jews and the false teachers and sadly this teaching still plagues the church today.
So what is legalism?
“Legalism is the excessive and improper use of the law (10 commandments, holiness laws, etc.,). Legalism can take different forms. THE FIRST is where a person attempts to keep the Law in order to attain salvation. According to Paul’s letter to the Romans “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law. Or is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also the God of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also, since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.” Rom 3:28-30. THE SECOND is where a person keeps the law in order to maintain his salvation. Paul wrote “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Eph 2:8-9. THE THIRD is when a Christian judges other Christians for not keeping certain codes of conduct that he thinks need to be observed. Rom 14:1-3 says “As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. See, spotting legalism correctly is important because sometimes we label things legalistic that are not legalistic.
Here are some ways we can spot a legalistic person in the church……..
- They cheapen grace by focusing on what we must do rather than on what Christ has already done.
- They'll contradict themselves when they say, "Salvation is free but it will cost you everything you have."
- They are "fruit inspectors" and assume how much spiritual fruit a person must produce in order to truly be saved.
- They focus on things like turning, trying and crying instead of faith alone in Christ alone for salvation.
- Their "gospel" could never be falsely accused of being a license to sin.
- They scare others with claims that, if you preach too much grace, people will run wild in the streets.
- They conveniently avoid large portions of gospel-centric New Testament books like Galatians, Romans and John.
- They blend justification passages with sanctification passages and then try to get us to buy into their Jello of truth!
- They have same works-based righteousness that Mormons and Muslims, do but cover it with evangelical language.
- They use the phrase, "You mean to tell me…" a lot. Then they create worst case salvation scenarios of those who claim to be Christians but abuse the grace of God. "You mean to tell me that someone can be saved and still….?"
See legalism destroys the beauty and purpose of the gospel.
- It emphasis’ more on what we do, then what Jesus did already for us.
- It appeals to our pride and to human experience.
- It’s easier to manage then grace.
- That’s Legalism!
What is grace?
Grace is unmerited favor. It is God's free action for the benefit of His people. It is different from justice and mercy! Justice is getting what we deserve. See, mercy is not getting what we deserve. Grace is getting what we do not deserve. With God’s grace we get eternal life, something we do not deserve, but because of God's love and kindness manifested in Jesus on the Cross, we receive the great blessing of redemption. Grace is God's riches at Christ’s expense for you and me. We need to understand that grace rules out all human merit. As Paul said “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.” Rom 11:6. Now! I don’t want to mix up this unmerited grace with common grace. There is a common grace that God extends to the unsaved as it does the saved.
Common Grace is the grace God gives to creation as a whole, to all unbelievers. And in this universal grace, God allows the sun to shine upon both the righteous and the unrighteous as it says in Matt 5:43-48. Also, God does not judge unbelievers right away due to the work of Christ on the Cross by which people are saved…..that’s reserved for the great White Throne. This is not the grace the false teachers were telling the people to steer away from. This is not the grace they are trying to replace with works righteousness. The grace that is being downplayed or rejected in the churches was God’s unmerited grace founded in the true gospel. See legalism and grace don’t work together or complement one another. See God’s grace destroys legalism and those who proclaim and live it. We see this in the opening remarks of Paul’s letter…..which sets the stage for the rest of the letter. Grace will always trump our works and legalism….this is proven in the opening remarks of Paul’s letter…..(look at V1-v5). The first thing I want I want us to see about this unmerited grace is that……
THIS GRACE COMES AT A HIGH COST (V4)
“who gave Himself for our sins.” This demonstrates for us the love God has towards us and the abundance of grace that he pours over us. The heart of the gospel is Christ’s willing sacrifice for you and me. Salvation is not earned by my efforts, but by trusting in God’s only begotten Son. Jesus’ atoning death on the cross is the most essential part to our redemption. And since man cannot eliminate or reconcile through works, it has to be done through Christ alone. Rom 3:20-24 says “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,
THIS GRACE BRINGS US GENUINE PEACE IN A HOSTILE WORLD. (V4)
“that he might deliver us from this present evil world.” This is God’s grace and provision for us as we live in an evil world system. The true gospel brings grace and peace. See, it’s only by His grace that we are able to find peace. Grace is the source of this peace and its pure and undefiled given to us by a holy God. If we didn’t receive this grace we would have no peace. Jesus said this to His disciples “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you….” John 14:27
THIS GRACE SHOWS US WHO HAS THE RIGHT TO GIVE IT. (V4-V5)
“according to the will of God our Father.” This is the primary reason for receiving such grace…..This is according to His will. The source of this grace is the sovereign, loving, compassionate, gracious will of our God and Father. The Father who “so loved the world” The Father who Jesus (in His humanity) prayed to in the garden before His arrest. It was the Father’s perfect will to crush His Son for you and me. (Isaiah 53). That’s grace and demonstrates the only One is worthy and capable of such a gift. As John 1:12-13 says “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
Grace is the ability to fellowship once again with a holy God. Salvation is not a trophy to brag upon, but a banner to stand under. It is the understanding that God came and bore the weight of our sins, placing Jesus, with arms outstretched, in the space between Him and us. There are two things that you and I must do to claim His unmerited grace. “if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Romans 10:9. That’s what unmerited grace looks like! Not Jesus plus what I can do, but JESUS ONLY!