Each of us here today, comes in here with at least one thing in common and that is each of us here today has a past. Our past is unquestionably a part of who we are. However, our past provides information as to where we’ve been, but it does not have to define where we’re going. It can though if we’re not careful. Yet we can learn from our past and instead of it being a prison for us, it can be a springboard into a much different future. Our past, both as individuals and as a church, can foster some incredible memories. Memories of enjoyable experiences, glorious times and celebrations that are so fresh it was as if it were yesterday. On the flip side though, our past, can be memories of painful experiences, deep sadness and experiences so tragic that can lead us into depression.
The book of Galatians can be split up into 3 sections. As we come to the end of chapter 2 of Galatians, we come to the conclusion of the 1st section. Paul has been working through Chapters 1 and 2 in what could be characterized as providing the “Authenticity of the Gospel”. Last week, we looked at this idea of the Table and we talked about through the finished work of Christ on the cross, the table is available to all. Now this sounds a lot like a conversation we have around the Lord’s Supper, which we observed last week. When we come to observe the Lord’s Supper, that is what we are observing is what Christ did on the cross. As we looked at the Table last week, we saw that Peter was actually excluding people from the table of fellowship, namely the Gentile Christians. He was reverting back to his Jewish traditions because a certain group of people, the religious people (who were Jews), were putting pressure on him because he was fellowshipping with the Gentile believers. Paul had called him on it and reminded him of the Gospel he was preaching through Christ. And that through Christ, all who have placed their trust and faith in Him are family, regardless of where they came from.
So as we come to this week’s passage, we are continuing that same conversation from last week as Paul is addressing Peter.
Galatians2:15-21(NASB) – “We are Jews by nature and not sinners from among the Gentiles; nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified. But if, while seeking to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have also been found sinners, is Christ then a minister of sin? May it never be! For if I rebuild what I have once destroyed, I prove myself to be a transgressor. For through the Law I died to the Law, that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and delivered Himself up for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.”
Last week we saw how Peter had a choice to make. Peter had made a choice that he was no longer going to fellowship with the Gentile Christians. Instead, he went back to his Jewish roots and isolated the Gentiles. In our passage today, let’s look at what Paul is talking about. The first thing Paul does is address the past.
1. The Past Cannot Be Ignored
As Paul is discussing with Peter, he takes him back to his past, “Look, we were born Jews. It was nothing that we did. As such, we were given the Law. That Law was not given to the Gentiles. The advantage of being born a Jew, was that we were not born a Gentile.” This is significant because the Jews felt as though they were morally superior, after all, they had the Law. Now that sounds a little harsh and racist and it is. There was a great distaste for the Gentiles. We saw it when Jesus walked the earth and we saw it in the Old Testament. We have to be careful, lest we begin to think the same things ourselves. If we are not careful, we can begin to look at other cultures, nationalities and even denominations through a shaded lens that cast a vision of less than or not as good as. Look up here and hear me very clearly. We must have a Biblical world view, not an American world view. I know that is counter cultural and some would even say un-American. We must see things in proper perspective. We must get to a point where Christ and His Word is first, above everything, not just religious things and not just on Sunday. So what is a Biblical worldview? It’s this. We view everything and everyone through the lens of Scripture. When we look see events, activities and people, we see them as someone Christ died for and someone just like ourselves, a sinner in need of a Savior and that Savior is Jesus Christ. We’ve not done anything to earn His grace, nor do we deserve it. Likewise, we’ve not done anything to deserve being born into this culture we were born into, with the access to the Gospel that we have. It’s only because of His grace that we were born here in America. And because of that, we should not and we must not use that privilege as a means and method to isolate people from hearing of God’s saving grace. If anything, it should convict us and compel us even more to go and spread His message. That is missions. So Paul, is reminding Peter of who he was at birth, a Jew. But where Paul goes next is “I know what our past was, but I also know what our past did. It led to a lifestyle of works based approval of bondage to the law”. It led to lifestyle of moral superiority and nationalistic selfishness. But it also led to a clouded perspective of the current condition and the future possibilities. Paul is acknowledging his past, but he is also acknowledging what the past did.
a. Our Past Can Shackle Us
When the Jewish Christians came to Peter, they were reminding him of who he was, a Jew, and what he was doing, developing relationships with Gentiles. We talked last week about how people and things that we surround ourselves with will pull is in either 1 of 2 directions. Either away from Christ or toward Christ. Peter allowed his past Judaism to pull him away from his freedom found in Christ. Peter was being pulled in multiple directions. Peter was being influenced by people around him. We would call that today, peer pressure. That’s why it is so important who you surround yourselves with. Not that we are to totally isolate ourselves from everyone, that’s not what I’m saying at all. In fact, Scripture speaks the opposite of that. Scripture says that we are to go into the world to proclaim His Name. What I am saying though, which Scripture also says, is that those we choose to make our close circle of friends, those that we spend the most time with, it is vitally important that those are the people who can help us in our walk with Christ. They can help us in our journey when we stray away and we can be the same for them. Hear me, this is true for all ages, not just our young people.
Some of you here today had a great childhood. You were brought up in a loving, caring and nurturing home. You were taught about Christ from birth and were always brought to church. For that, you should be incredibly thankful. But there’s a warning that Paul gives us.
b. Viewing our past in context
This is very important for us to understand. In verse 16, after Paul reminds Peter of where they came from, he makes a statement that was not going to make Paul many friends but is very important for us to hear and recognize. This is what Paul is getting to, “Even though you were born in the church and grew up in a Christian home, have done everything ‘by the book’, it DOES NOT JUSTIFY YOU”. Or in other words, “the goodness of our actions, the goodness of the home we were raised in, nor our parents relationship with Christ gives us our own personal relationship with Him”. Our works do not make us right before God. The problem is, we define “goodness” by our measuring stick. Remember that Biblical worldview I was talking about earlier. Scripture is the measuring stick not our own ideas and actions. To use Paul’s words in verse 16, “we are only justified, or made righteous or made right with God, through our faith in Christ because of what Christ did on the cross”. Apart from our own personal relationship with Christ, the born on the front pew, present when the doors are open, hymn singing, suit wearing person is just as condemned to hell as the vilest prison inmate, person who’s mouth is as filthy as the sewage drain, dirtiest, smelliest, clothes falling off, never set foot in a church and wants nothing to do with God person. How is that possible you ask? First and foremost, as we’ve said throughout this series, each of us is born into this world in a condition of sin, which separates us from God according to Psalm 51:5. We call that within the church as “being lost” or being an “un-believer”. We saw this last week, each of us, before a relationship with Christ, no matter our past, is equally separated from God. It is not our works, i.e. good deeds, not our heritage, not our nationality that justifies us, makes us right with God, and provides us a relationship with God. It is only because of the finished work of Christ on the cross. The ground is level at the foot of the cross. Sin does not make us bad. Sin makes us dead.
One thing though I want you to hear. We should strive with everything that we have to bring our children up in a Godly home, showing them the love of Christ, pointing them to Christ, modeling Christ before them and teaching them all about what a relationship with Him looks like. We should invest in them, love on them, and walk with them. We should live out our relationship with Christ before them. Look up here for a moment and listen very carefully. No matter how much we desire it, no matter how much we want it, we cannot give them their relationship with Christ. That is a decision that only they can make. We should bathe them in prayer, consistently. The other part of that is true as well. Just because we were or are brought up in a home where all of those things were or are present, does not give us that relationship. That is a decision that we have to make individually. This is not just true for children, this is also true for adults. No matter how much I desire you to become a follower of Christ, I can’t make that decision for you. That’s why I pray for you, that you would make that decision to follow Christ. And for those of you that are a follower of Christ, I pray for you that you would be drawn closer to Him and repent of anything that has broken that fellowship.
The other side of that coin must also be addressed as well. Suppose you were not brought up in such an environment or culture. Suppose you were brought up in a home where you were never brought to church or never heard about who Christ is and love was a concept you only heard about and dreamed of. The idea of family was just a myth to you. If you were brought up in that environment, that does not prevent you from coming to a relationship with Christ. That should encourage each of us.
If having these things doesn’t give us salvation and not having them doesn’t keep us from being able to receive it, then what’s the deal? Here’s the deal. It’s not about you!
So yes, we each have a past, whether that past has fond memories or whether it has painful ones. We each have one. You can fill a BUT coming and here it is. BUT……
2. Your past doesn’t have to be your future
As Paul acknowledged where he came from, he also recognized that he no longer was defined by that person. Paul says in verse 19 “For through the Law I died to the Law, that I might live to God”. What Paul is getting to here is this. By trying to keep the Law and doing everything that it demanded of me, it actually condemned me because it exposed how wretched I was. Christ did not come to give a new set of laws that had to be followed. Instead, through Christ, I died to the law so that I could live for Him. If you were here for the sonrise service last week, we looked at this word “LIVE”. The word LIVE that is used here is the same word that Jesus used in John 12:25 when He talked about having life eternal. When Paul is taking about “live to God”, he is talking about the fullest life possible. Paul said that he is no longer trying to check all the boxes so that his relationship with Christ can be restored. I’m not trying to “do” for my relationship because I can never check enough boxes. But checking the boxes makes us feel better. How do I know? Look at your kids. Have they ever done something wrong and before you found out, at least in their eyes, they try to turn on the charm and be nice? They pick up their toys. They clean their room. They do their chores, all without being asked. We have a “I have to work to make things right” attitude that is part of who we are and we allow that same mentality to creep into our spiritual life as well. All of that is contrary to who Christ is . Christ said STOP it!! Because what the Law actually did was say that there’s nothing you can do to make amends. There’s not enough “good” you could do, whatever “good” means. And that may lead you to say, well it’s hopeless and I’m helpless. And yes, that is the point. That’s where you have to start. That’s why we need the finished work of Christ. Because apart from Him, we are helpless and we are hopeless. There’s only one kind of sinner, a hopeless and helpless dead one. We like to paint the sinner in a picture as to what a sinner is. You have no further to look than in the mirror. You may say, but you don’t know all I’ve done, and you’re right. I don’t. You may say, I’m the worst of all. I have good news for you. There’s nothing that can be uncovered about you and about me that Christ is not aware of and that wasn’t covered by the blood of Christ on the cross. When Jesus died on the cross, he paid for all our past, present and future sins and when we come into a relationship with Him, His atoning sacrifice on the cross covers those sins. Once we are child of God, when we sin and fall short and we will, He doesn’t distance Himself from us, like Peter did with the Gentile Believers we saw last week. When we do sin, we are able to come to Him and seek forgiveness through repentance and the fellowship with Him is restored. God doesn’t hold grudges. God doesn’t keep a scorecard. God doesn’t blackmail. God restores. Now, there may be consequences for those sins that we have to face and live with and we’ll “Face the music” so to speak while we are here on earth. But fellowship with God can be and will be restored through our repentance and His forgiveness.
Here’s what Paul is getting to. External practices of religion does not lead to internal transformation. That can only happen through the power of Christ and Christ alone.
3. We need Jesus
That sounds almost too simple and trite. Here’s what I mean. We are a prideful bunch of people. We don’t like to ask for help. We don’t like to think we’re in need. Stop trying to do and allow God to be. Stop trying to be who you’re not and rest securely in who God is. We like to act like we have it altogether. We put the Bible verses on our Facebook Page, we have the fish on our car windows. We have the “I’m not perfect, just forgiven” tags on our cars. We sign our names with #forgiven on twitter. We don’t smoke and we don’t chew and we don’t hang around with those that do. But if we were honest with ourselves, we’re a wreck. As Matt Chandler has said in our James study. Our homes are a wreck and on fire, but we come here and put on a facade to portray that we have it altogether. We can’t let people know we’re in shambles. In reality though, we feel like we’re hanging on by a thread and that thread turns out to be a fuse that’s already been lit. We are trying to carry the weight of the world on our shoulders and we’re trying to live up to a mystical understanding of what it means to be the Christian image and it’s exhausting. You’re tired. You’re frazzled. You’re a wreck. That’s why we need Jesus. We need Jesus to transform us. We need Jesus to fill us. We need Jesus to expose our legalism of trying to earn His favor. We need Jesus to restore the broken fellowship because only Jesus can. Paul is saying STOP IT! Folks, within this body of believers should be the safest place for you and me to be who we truly are, cracks, crevasses, pealing paint and all. Stop trying to be somebody you’re not. It’s exhausting and will imprison you. One of the most profound passages in all of the New Testament and the entire Scriptures is this one:
Galatians 2:20-21 (NASB) – I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and delivered Himself up for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.”
Did you catch that. If we could have been made right by simply checking boxes, then there was no need for Christ to die. Friends, get off of the hamster wheel that you’re running on. Step into the sufficiency of grace through faith in Christ. Christ has already completed the job He came to do that only He can do. Stop trying to do that which Christ has already done.
I’m going to ask you to bow your heads for just a moment. I want to create some awkward silence for you. I want you to get real with yourself before God…You can’t hide it from Him. He knows it already. He wants you to recognize it. What’s keeping you from following Him fully? What do you need to repent of?
Are you trying to do things in your own power that only God can do? Are you trying to be good enough for God to like you? Are going to continue on the hamster wheel and try to earn His favor. You can’t come to enough church services, sing enough hymns, quote enough Bible verses or wear enough Jesus shirts to earn his favor. It’s impossible. What you can do though, is completely surrender to Him and allow Him to draw you to Himself. As I said a couple of weeks ago, we are on a collision course with the lordship of Christ in our lives. Each of us will bow before Him. Will you bow before Him now as your Lord or later as your Judge? The thing is we don’t know when later will be. We are a heartbeat away from that moment. At that point, it will be too late to bow before Him as Lord.
Let me close with this. When a surgeon does a heart transplant an amazing thing happens. The surgeon takes out the diseased, failing and death inducing heart from the body. The body at that moment, does not have a heart. For all intensive purposes, the body is dead. It is being kept alive through a series of machines. But a new heart arrives only because someone else has died, given their very life in order for another to live. A new heart is brought in. The surgeon takes that new heart and places it into that body. The new heart begins to beat within the body and new life has been given. The diseased heart is gone, a new heart has arrived. That’s what Christ did for us. He died, so that we could have a new heart, a new life, eternal life, the fullest life possible, found only in Him.
We each have a past. We are here in the moment. What will your future look like? I can guarantee you this, with Christ, you do not have to face it alone and with Christ, it will be the fullest life possible. And with Christ, it will be an eternal life, one spent in relationship with Him.