Tag: Series Living the Gospel

Living the Gospel (Galatians Week 3) + Conversation Starters

Sermon, Pentecost 4C, Sunday June 16, 2013, St PetriGalatians-Living-the-Gospel_medium

Series ‘ Galatians: Living the Gospel, Week 3

Living the Gospel

Galatians 2: 15-21

15 “We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles 16 know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in[a] Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.

17 “But if, in seeking to be justified in Christ, we Jews find ourselves also among the sinners, doesn’t that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! 18 If I rebuild what I destroyed, then I really would be a lawbreaker.

19 “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”

There’s nothing quite like a local church community in terms of being a community with all kinds of people in it. The diversity of people personalities and experiences in a local church is one of the things that makes a local church such an amazing place.

Of course, because we are human, sometimes the differences we have can create a bit of tension and even conflict.

People may think that the first church community was never in conflict, very unified and quite perfect. But it wasn’t! Paul tells of a conflict between he and Peter.

Peter and Paul had spent fifteen days together before this letter was written when Paul first went down to Jerusalem to consult with Peter about the message he was proclaiming among the Gentiles. All seemed to go very well on that occasion (Gal 1:18). After that meeting, Paul was happy to testify that “God was at work in the ministry of Peter as an apostle to the Jews…. (Gal 2:8).

But when Peter came up into Gentile Antioch and Paul observed something about Peter’s behaviour that didn’t quite line up with the gospel of Jesus, the challenge was on.

Paul noticed an hypocrisy driven by fear in the behaviour of Peter. When no Jewish colleagues were around in Antioch, Peter was one of the Gentles. He ate with Gentiles and did not keep the Jewish law among the people. But when the Jewish Christians came up from Jerusalem, all of a sudden, Peter returned to the Jewish law by not eating with Gentiles and returning to the food laws of Jewish people.

Peter was engaged in that “gospel +” living we have been talking about.

Gospel + something else to get God’s grace.

Peter was leaving the gospel of God’s underserved love received only by means of faith in Jesus the Messiah by adding something extra to it for his wellbeing. The “plus” was nationalism. He was insisting that Christians can’t be really pleasing to God unless they become Jewish in their lifestyle and belief. This is just another form of legalism – or relying on the Law for our wellbeing before God and with each other.

Peter was rebuilding what had once been torn down and therefore showing that he himself was indeed a lawbreaker before God, says Paul (Gal 2:18). Before we point the finger at Peter too long, we might look our own legalisms…

Our Mistake?

We have similar sorts of exclusive social behaviour based on a failure to trust the gospel of Jesus as our only means of wellbeing, community and life.

Being Sectarian: It is extremely easy to stress our own distinctiveness in terms of teaching and story and way of being church in order to really say that our church is superior and our belief more authentic or pure that others’.

Class, Nation and/or race distinction: We human beings, and even us redeemed people of God, seem to thrive on making distinctions to feel superior.

We seem to pick just about any difference between us, be it social standing, level of education, income or the place we live in of anything else to cluster in groups and speak about “those other people” in an attempt to cope with our feelings of inadequacy, our lack of understanding of others and our fears of difference.

Taking ourselves too seriously: This is taking our own preferences too seriously and loading them up with moral significance which in the end is only cultural.

EG. Being a church with a certain reserve, less visibly seen emotional expressiveness and feeling superior to those in churches that have more emotional expressiveness and vice-versa.

We struggle to sit with the reality that we just different and make our differences articles of faith when they really may be only cultural differences between people.

We can easily believe that our customs and music and way of gathering are spiritually better than others, when in fact they are just different.

Gospel Response:

Paul declares, “God did not have fellowship with you, Peter, on the basis of your race, culture, custom and keeping of rules.

So, though you were very good and faithful in keeping these customs and rules, these had nothing to do with God coming to you with the hand of friendship and loving you in his Son, Jesus”. In fact, this way of living was really all about you – you at centre, you first then God. It is that old “gospel reversal” of which we have spoken.

GOSPEL REVERSAL LIVING

I think, act, do, keep the law well → God responds by accepting me

So, Peter (or any of us), you cannot have fellowship with God and each other on the basis of customs, race or nationality – these are not where your heart and your wellbeing lie (Gal 2:15-16).

Our only foundation to be united and effective and faithful to our God in life and our only basis for fellowship with him and each other is the gospel of God’s grace given in Jesus. He makes us one. He makes brings us together and gives us meaning and purpose for living.

But see here how the gospel actually shapes not just Paul’s thinking and his faith but his action and his relationships…

The gospel message our lives speak is;

NOT “Try harder”

BUT “Remember God’s grace for you” (the gospel)

EG. Racism is wrong not only because it hurts people but because it is fundamentally opposed to the gospel of God’s grace received by faith by anyone who calls on the name of the Lord.

Racism is then just a continuation of gospel + living and belief in one part of our lives. It is borne of the desire to feel we are in some way “better’ or “righteous” over against others. It is ignoring the truth or just plain forgetting the truth that we are accepted, of great value, loved and we belong to a community by God’s gracious hand given in Jesus through our baptism.

Racism, like any other divide we put in place to feel more accepted, secure, superior, is a failure to live our lives under or in line with the gospel.

So Paul challenges his brother not by making him feel guilty but by reminding him of who he is and whose he is in the gospel of Jesus

So, we see here the way of the gospel:

NOT

You better get better in your behaviour→ God’s will accept you

BUT

God has loved you and accepts you in Jesus → Now respond

Friends, this is the Christian way of living with difference and even at times, “opposing” someone. When you are trying to motivate someone or help them see a truth of God in a particular area of life or wanting them to find the riches of God’s grace given in Jesus for them, then you are best to use God’s grace and mercy as the motivator and not just more rules and the guilt and fear that come from the law.

Yes, Peter’s behaviour was wrong and Paul said this “in front of them all”. And yet he did not only say the behaviour was wrong but then brought them back to the gospel as the only way of renewal, forgiveness and change – he talked about God’s grace as our only hope and life and urged Peter to remember who he was in God’s grace – in his baptism.

He says to a fearful Peter, “Peter, you do not need these people’s approval. You already have got Christ’s”. There was no need for “gospel +” living. The gospel is enough for you.

When we speak the good news of God’s grace as we talk about our wrongs we can speak quite strongly and directly and it will have a much higher chance of being received because it will show that in the end we are actually for the person not against them – and that God is actually for them and with them, not against them and apart from them.

EG.

Parents, when your teenager/young adult leaves the house to go to a party, what is the gospel thing to say?

Don’t do wrong tonight OR Remember who you are tonight

To a friend who is scared and yet outwardly rejecting the church and the gospel we love, which is the gospel way to be?

Friend, you better come to church OR God is still with you and is still calling you back home

When you are wronged: What is the gospel thing to say and do when you are wronged or can see hypocrisy in your parents or your colleagues…

Friend, when you did that or say that it hurts me and others but God still loves both of us and is calling us to forgive each other as he has forgiven us in Jesus.

Friends, what we hear Paul doing is living in the gospel and it is the hope we bring to our parenting, our teaching, our friendships, our marriages, our work place.

Gospel mission as church?

Raising up the gospel of God’s gracious kindness already offered in the person of Jesus for people who can never be superior enough by keeping a million rules and expectations but are freely loved and accepted by a God who really is for them and not against them is the way we do mission as a church.

Remember the grace God has showered upon you – and what does living out and enjoying that grace look like in that situation?

Friends, may we be people of grace and our church be a place of gospel grace – truthful, direct yes. But all for the goal of the gospel – so we all live in the gospel – the underserved beautiful approval and acceptance and love of our God.

Is it possible? Can we be a people of grace and a church of grace? Can we truly live in line with the gospel we have received?

Yes. Why? Because…..

We know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.

And that we have been crucified with Christ and we no longer live, but Christ lives in us. The life we now live in the body, we live by faith in the Son of God, who loved us and gave himself for us.

The grace of Jesus, the love of the Father and the fellowship of the Spirit keep us in the gospel. Amen.

CONVERSATION STARTERS

1. When you ponder that call to “live your life in line with the gospel”, what kind of things come to mind for you?

2. In which area of your life do you think you are walking in line with the gospel?

3. Are there people in your church you have not been “eating with” because they are not “like you”? What lies beneath this kind of attitude we sometimes have?

4. How would you explain Paul’s little phrase that sums up the gospel “Justified by faith” to someone asking you about that?

5. Share a story about how you have used the god news of God’s grace to help someone see that they needed to challenge their behaviour or attitude (maybe in your parenting or as a teacher or in your workplace and the like…)

6. How would you explain the difference between being moral and being a Christian to someone who thinks being good makes them acceptable to God?

No other Gospel (Galatians Week 1) – with group conversation starters

Sermon, Pentecost 3C, Sunday June 2, 2013. St PetriGalatians-Living-the-Gospel_medium

Galatians: Living the Gospel, Week 1

No Other Gospel

Galatians 1:1-12

1 Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— 2 and all the brothers and sisters[a] with me, To the churches in Galatia: 3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.

No Other Gospel

6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!

10 Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.

Paul Called by God

11 I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. 12 I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.

The striking thing about Paul’s short letter to the Christians in small congregations throughout Galatia is that Paul’s tone is striking! The tone is genuine surprise and anger – like when a trusted friend says something that really hurts. You are “taken back” by what they have done in genuine surprise. Then comes the anger…

6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel….

Paul is angry at some people who have moved into the area who are slightly twisting the gospel he lived among them.

He is disappointed and angry that the people have so quickly followed this “other gospel” which is actually no gospel at all. – like a parent who has carefully raised their child to be honest, hardworking, respectful of adults and peers, only to see their child hanging out with peers who are none of these and becoming like them…. It hurts!

Paul says that by going along with this “other gospel”, they are actually abandoning Jesus.

WHO ARE THEY?

It seems that the influential group are Jewish Christians from down south near Jerusalem (Acts 15:1). Their message was;

“Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” (Acts 15:1)

They are saying that the way to acceptance by God and peace with him and each other comes by Jesus + something else. The ‘+’ they are teaching is the Old Testament Jewish law; laws to do with eating food, yearly rituals and festivals and the main one – circumcision.

They are really saying that you have to practice Jewish law to be fully Christian – it is a gospel + something message.

THE PROBLEM?

It is not easy to tell the difference between the one and only gospel of God’s grace given by faith in Jesus Christ and a “gospel +” message.

Why? Because surely as Christian we all want to please God for all he has done for us? Surely we should do all we can to please him?

The Galatian Christians are finding it very hard to spot the difference between the one true gospel of life in God’s grace by faith in Jesus, and this other “gospel” that is being taught as a way to please God but is actually not gospel at all.

ONE GOSPEL

It is not possible and not good for the gospel to have anything else added to it. That is Paul’s basic line.

Paul gives a little summary of the gospel so it is clear.

Who we are?

We are lost and helpless. We are in need of rescue. (1:4)

Who is God?

A guru might teach you wise ways to live

A philosopher might teach you a new insight

A scientist might teach you knowledge based on sound research

But only Jesus can rescue you from the present evil time within and without (1:4).

Jesus, when he sees a drowning woman does not throw that woman a booklet on how to swim, he throws that woman a rope, or his own hand and pulls her in – like he did for Peter that time.

God has thrown humanity a rope by, as Paul says, “giving himself for our sins to rescue us….:(1:3-4)

And why does God do this? It can only be grace, grace, grace!

God’s

Riches

At

Christ’s

Expense

GOSPEL REVERSAL

But as we see here, there is a thing that can happen for Christians. It is called “Gospel reversal”.

Any change to this message and practice of the gospel being God’s grace from beginning to end reverses the gospel and turns it into more rules and laws.

Gospel way is;   God calls us we respond

God accepts us we respond

Any changing of the way puts us at the centre and not God. We become like that drowning woman trying to read the book on how to swim while we are drowning!

Any teaching that says that we must give God something or do something for God and then be rescued by him is no gospel.

If we ever say “I need God’s grace + something else to be at peace with God and accepted by him”, we are not being faithful to Jesus and actually abandoning him.

(Luther says this as he introduced his commentary on Galatians).

WHAT ABOUT US?

There seems to be several ways in which churches can fall into this gospel+ kind of teaching and life.

1. Some churches teach that I am “saved by my surrender to God”, and some right behaviours and beliefs.

You are made right with God or “saved” by “giving your life to Jesus”, or “ask Jesus into my life”.

The gospel is reversed:                             I give my life → God responds

The gospel is:                                             God calls us we respond

This teaching is saying that we are in fact saved by a combination of OUR strong belief. We are saved by OUR commitment to God, OUR trust and even love for God.

One of the problems that follows is that we then need a high degree of sorrow for our sin, hunger for God and love of God and people to get God’s grace AND MAINTAIN THESE THINGS lest we lose God or “backslide”.

If we are loved by God by our doing, then we will be locked into a never ending cycle of doubt about whether or not God really does love us enough or all the time, and having to keep a lot of expectations and rules. We will be locked into gospel+ life which is no life at all.

The gospel is that we are accepted and loved by God by HIS grace which is received through faith in Jesus the Rescuer.

Gospel is God’s performance for us

NOT

our performance for God – because we cannot perform well enough or long enough!

2. Another kind of church might teach that “it doesn’t really matter what you believe as long as you are a good person”.

This is saying that all “good people” are accepted by God and go to heaven. This sounds very good to our ears. It is very inclusive, caring and open-minded to our modern and post-modern values. But it is quite intolerant of God’s grace! God’s grace is actually rejected.

It is our good behaviour that is enough to get God’s acceptance

Gospel reversal:                          We accept and include people God responds

All it takes for us to be right with God is human virtue and noble thought and behaviour.

The flip side is that all “bad” people (not inclusive and accepting enough people) have no place. If only good people are saved by being good, then only good people can be saved. What seemed inclusive is actually very exclusive!

Doesn’t Jesus say different? Everyone – the good, the bad, and the ugly, are invited to the feast of the King, with Jesus (Matthew 22:16)

3. Another kind of church might teach that the observance of small differences in dress code, ritual action and many religious expectations are the thing that we need to do to get God’s grace.

We observe detailed rituals and expectations God responds

This teaching leads to quite an intolerant and inward looking church concerned with the correct observance of many things. Things are highly regulated and people are generally controlled by tightly guarded ways to dress, eat, speak, sing and pray….

This seems close to what was going on in the Galatian Churches with the influential people insisting that men should observe the Jewish custom and Old Testament law of circumcision to be “true Christians”.

WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL ANYWAY?

But friends, why the big deal about all of this?

Why is Paul so intense and why should we be?

Why fight for the gospel and keep on our toes to stay in it and not reverse it – even unawares?

Because to make anything else other than the grace of God given in Jesus Christ the very heart and soul of ourselves and our church is to abandon Jesus, according to Paul (1:6).

6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ…

To believe and live like it is my faith, commitment, tolerance, keeping of religious observances or anything else that begins this relationship with God is to discard his cross and his resurrection for what we can do, think and believe.

“Gospel +” living is a turning your back on the only one who can and does rescue lost and condemned people by sheer grace and love – Jesus Christ.

And finally, any “gospel+” living bring God’s condemnation to your soul and our community. Paul actually says that this “no gospel” teaching in the Galatian church brings a curse to bear on God’s people (1:8).

Adding anything to the wonderful good news of God’s grace poured out on undeserving people who are dearly loved by God in the person and work of Jesus will only bring fear, anxiety and a whole lot of guilt to you and to us as a church.

INTENSE!

Paul is intense about the gospel. We are intense about the gospel. It is our life and it is worth fighting for and being very picky about. It is the only thing that saves from endless fear, anxiety and guilt and brings love, peace and freedom to our lives.

Friends, let’s remind each other often of the gospel. Let’s share it with each other and ponder it ourselves often and live in it.

In this Galatians journey we will be confirmed in the reality that the gospel is not only the ABC’s for people who don’t know Jesus but the A-Z of our life in Christ. It is that central, that special, that foundational and that beautiful.

To God be all glory forever and ever

PRAYER

The grace and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, be with you and keep you in the gospel. Amen.

CONVERSATION STARTERS

♦  Paul’s tone reminds us that Christian faith is a matter of the heart, as well as the head – feelings, as well as intellect. How does this encourage you? How does this challenge you?

♦  How important is gospel truth to you? How is this shown in the way you live?

♦  Why will understanding the true gospel produce anger at false “gospels”?

♦  Which of the three modern false ‘gospels’ could you or St Petri most easily fall into?

♦ How would you explain the gospel to someone who asked you tomorrow what you believed?