More than 70 years President Roosevelt gave his famous “Four Freedoms” speech in which he upheld the freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. As we reflect on our freedom as Americans, every follower of Jesus should also reflect on the freedom we have in Christ.
If freedom of religion is one of life’s great freedoms, I would suggest that freedom from religion is much more significant and costly freedom. In fact, it was the apostle Paul who described religion when he referenced “the law” in the Book of Galatians. Any structure, belief, ritual, moral behavior, or action by which we seek to achieve a right standing before God (through human effort) is “religion”. Ironically, many religious people are living in bondage. When we truly understand the difference between religion and biblical Christianity, it impacts everything about our relationship with God. Then, and only then, is true freedom found.
In Galatians 3:1-14 Paul uses the strongest terms possible in exhorting believers to go back to the Gospel as the one and only basis for their Christian lives. The essence of the Christian life is the Gospel. It is what Christ has done on the cross. But this is not only a means toward salvation, it is the means toward our sanctification, the motivation for our obedience, and the power to live our lives in Christ.
It may sound strange to some, but Christ came to set us free from religion. 2,000 years ago God sent His Son to rebel against a religion that He, Himself, began. And by “religion” I do not mean “Church”. The Church is the Body of Christ- the “living out” of our faith is a community project- we do it together AS the Body of Christ. But it all starts as we stop trying to gain God’s approval through our own efforts, give up, and admit our need for a Savior, confess our sin and our inability to set ourselves free.. then, we can escape the bondage of our sin. Jesus said…
“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36 What did Jesus really mean? Paul answers the question in Galatians. His battle cry is the same as the great reformers of the 1500’s. During the Reformation, the most dramatic shift in Christian history, many protested against the Catholic Church- at the time- with its works-based, religious add-ons to what Christ has done. From these protestors or “protestants”- came many groups forging their own way with the Bible alone as their guide. In fact, a brief history lesson and a look at the theology of the reformers will be helpful for our study of this 3rd chapter. In fact, it was the book of Galatians (along with the book of Romans) that most influenced Martin Luther to post his 95 theses (complaints) on the door of the Wittenburg Church- that sparked the Reformation- protesting the religion of his day. So, quickly…
The 5 Pillars of the Reformation “Solo, soli, sola”, are all Latin for, “alone/only”
1. ‘Sola Scriptura’ – By Scripture Alone
2. ‘Sola Gratia’ – By Grace Alone
3. ‘Solus Christus’ – By Christ Alone
4. ‘Sola Fide’ – By Faith Alone
5. ‘Soli Deo Gloria’ – Glory To God Alone
The Book of Galatians focuses on numbers 2 through 4 in particular- “By GRACE through FAITH” alone we are justified, we are sanctified, and we will be glorified. From start to finish it is faith in the finished work of Christ (not religion or “works of the law”).
By Grace Alone
I want you to examine your heart- to see if you have truly been set free in Christ. AND all of us need some freeing- None of us have arrived.. nor will we. I want you to ask yourself a series of questions and do a kind of self-examination (a Holy Spirit investigation). With each point below, ask yourself: How do I know if I think and live this way?) DO YOU FOCUS ON:
• Christ’s sacrifice or the Law? (vs. 1-2) Do you live your Christian life on the basis of works or by faith? And here’s what most of us miss: The demand of the Law is perfection. The fallacy of the “What Would Jesus Do?” question is this: Jesus would do it perfectly. And that’s game over for us. The Father is not grooming you to be the replacement for His Son. He is calling us to give up, fall on our knees, and believe that there is shelter through faith in His Son. Do you rest in Christ’s fulfillment of the law and His sacrifice OR do you strive and work to become pleasing to God? It will never happen- not through your works! And this not bad news, this is Good News. Is your life one big “thank you” or are you constantly driven to gain God’s approval? Are you motivated by fear or out of gratitude? Are you striving to win God’s approval or do you rest and revel in the fact that you already have it?
• God’s Spirit or human effort? (vs. 3) Having received Christ’s Spirit at salvation, are you now turning away from the Spirit- (the only power to transform you) and going back to your religious ways (thinking that a modification of your behavior will transform your heart?) This is crazy! Are you trying to let Moses finish what Christ has begun? Do you strive to “do the right thing” in your own power or do you constantly go back to the liberating truth of the Gospel -that it is God’s Spirit changes you, not your efforts. Do you pray for His power to move in your life or do simply try harder day in and day out? Are you constantly measuring your performance before God or comparing yourself to others? Are you quick to judge? These are signs you’re focused on human effort, not the Spirit. Are you obsessed with thoughts about your performance or are you obsessed with the Gospel? Because it is the Gospel that is our motivation for obedience. ARE you focused on:
• Your faith or your works? (vs. 5-9) Do you live by faith or by works?
Most of us live by works because that puts us in control. The law (or works) puts everything on us- and the truth is, we like that. Because we like to keep score. Faith takes us out of the picture and puts everything on God. Faith makes all of my works and human effort as no consequence and I can no longer keep score- I can’t come before God or others and say, “Look what I’ve done, look how righteous, how kind, how religious I am.” Faith puts us all on the same level so that we cannot boast about how we’re on some higher plane than others. It’s faith FIRST and it’s faith LAST. Faith in what? Faith in Christ- who is and what He’s done for us. Many Christians start out with a simple, focused faith- relying fully on the grace of Christ, but they desert the purity of the Gospel and enter into legalism and works. Here’s a profound truth: It is possible to avoid Jesus as Savior as much by keeping all the biblical rules as by breaking them. Paul says- that kind of life leads to- not a blessing, but a curse.
• A blessing or a curse? (vs. 10-14) Again, the demand of the Law is
perfection. If you’re going to keep any of the law, you must keep ALL of the law. “What Would Jesus Do?” Here is the costly answer: Jesus would do it all perfectly. And that’s game over for you. The Father is not grooming you to be a replacement for his Beloved Son. He is announcing that there is blessing for those who take shelter in his Beloved Son. because “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23) and the “wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). So if you want to measure yourself by the law- you’re under a curse! You’ll never be blessed. In 2 Cor. 1:22, Paul says that God has “set His seal of ownership on us, and put His Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.”
Are you living as one blessed? If so, you seek to be a blessing to others. Then in verses 15-22 Paul argues that in every day life people make binding agreements that cannot be nullified just as the covenant was originally given to Abraham. But THEN came the law (after the covenantal promise) to show us that we are prisoners to sin. But the promise of salvation and freedom have finally come to us through Christ- making us sons and daughters of God- not prisoners.
“Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” 2 Cor. 1:21-22
• A child or a prisoner? (vs. 23-25) The law has become a “tutor”. The Greek word is “pedagogos”- a “child-conductor” or “moral teacher”, a strict disciplinarian” who would train boys (6-16 years old)- a kind of moral guidance counselor- often through harsh methods if they felt it was necessary. The law was a temporary, often harsh, disciplinarian, given to us so that we might see that we cannot measure up to the high and holy demands of God. Christ came to live the perfect life and fulfill the holy requirements of the law (so we wouldn’t have to) and he died on the cross for our sin (because we could not). It is by grace through faith that we are saved. Grace is the most expensive free gift you’ll ever receive.
Joy is found, not in obedience to God’s law, but in surrender to His love. The Gospel frees us from this pressure to perform, this slavish demand to “become”. The liberating declaration of the Gospel is that, in Christ, we already ARE. Here’s the freedom of the Gospel of grace- IF you are a Christian, here’s the Good News: Who you really are has nothing to do with YOU- how much you accomplish, who you become, your behavior (good or bad), your strengths or your weaknesses, your sordid past, family background, your education, your looks, and on and on.. Your identity is firmly anchored in Christ’s accomplishment, not yours, His strength, not yours; His performance, not yours; His victory, not yours. Your identity is steadfastly established in His substitution, not your sin. The Gospel doesn’t just free you from what other people think about you; it frees you from what you think about yourself.
Now you can spend your life giving up your place for others instead of guarding it- because your identity is in Christ, not in your “place”… I am now content with the back of the line, the last place, the role of a servant, you and I can GIVE freely.. because our identity is not found in what we possess.. and all of this is because of Christ’s finished work declared to us in the Gospel. So the final question-focus on
• Religion or relationship?
Is your life defined by your religious activity or by your relationship with Jesus Christ? And how would you know? Simple really. What do you think about? Where do you spend your time? Do you seek HIM daily or more activity? Do you focus on what Christ has done or what you must do? Are you experiencing a vibrant relationship with Christ or are you just trying to live a religious life?
Two challenges: One is to those of you who have never realized that true Christianity is not a religion but a relationship with God- through Jesus Christ. The second challenge is to a group that I call the “religious Christian group”- and before you think that you’re not in this group, most of us are. The religious Christian and the grace-filled disciple live very different lives.
• The religious Christian loves a routine; a grace-filled disciple longs for mission.
• The religious Christian knows the letter of the law; a grace-filled disciple lives the spirit of the law.
• The religious Christian loves tradition; a grace-filled disciple loves a challenge.
• The religious Christian is satisfied with ritual; a grace-filled disciple thrives in mystery.
• The religious Christian desires stability and certainty; a grace-filled disciple seeks a life with Jesus filled with risk and adventure.
How do you want to live your life? In a religion or a relationship?