Amazing Folly and an Awful Curse
© C. O. Bishop 9/12/14 (THCF 9/14/14)
One of the things we can see, early in the preaching ministry of Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:42-45, 50; Acts 14:4, 5, 19; Acts 15:1, 2, 5-11; etc.) is that the unbelieving Jews were violently opposed to the preaching of Grace, especially since it was associated with the person of Jesus Christ. They felt quite sensitive, nationally, regarding Jesus. They were keenly aware that as a nation they had given him over to the Romans, to be crucified. But even the Jews who claimed to believe the Gospel were pretty insistent that the Gentiles had to effectively become Jews to be saved—undergo circumcision, and keep the Law.
Today, we might be inclined to think that this was specifically a Jewish problem, because, after all, why would a Gentile, to whom the Law was never given, try to make everyone keep it? But the fact is: the problem of legalism is universal among humans. We all want to believe that we can please God in our flesh—that we can clean up our lives and devise our own means of approaching God; and that He, on His part, will be ever so grateful that we humans have deigned to give Him our attention. Doesn’t something sound wrong about that?
Doesn’t that sound, in fact, quite backward? If God is really the sovereign master of all things, doesn’t it follow that HE, not we, should determine the “rules”, so to speak? When you go into a human courtroom, do you tell them how it is to be run, or do they tell you? When you hire on with human employers, do you tell them how their business is to be conducted, or do they tell you your job? Pretty silly questions, are they not? And yet, for some reason, we humans think we ought to be able to make up our own “truths” concerning God, and that He should then toe the line and be whatever we imagine Him (or her?) to be. Cain thought he could make the rules, too, even though he knew what God had decreed. King Saul kept fudging the truth, and twisting the words of God, to justify himself. This is the “default value” for the entire human race. We think we are in charge, and will, at the very least, “rewrite the script” so that we can seem righteous.
The fact is, God does tell us how things really stand between us and Him: and it isn’t a good story. That is the “bad news”, in fact, that makes the Gospel “Good News”. He says, “…all have sinned, and come short of the Glory of God” Romans 3:23 (That’s bad news!). He also says, “The wages of Sin is Death…” (More bad news!) Fortunately, He further says, “…but the gift of God is Eternal Life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) That is the bad news and the Good news, and both are pretty clear:
- We are all condemned to die, because of sin, and
- Eternal life is only available as a gift from God, through Jesus Christ…period.
That is simple enough for anyone to understand and for any of us to share. And that is the message these folks had already heard and believed.
6 I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel:
7 Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.
The folks to whom Paul was directing this letter (remember, it is to us, too!) had all originally heard and understood and believed that Gospel message; that is why he calls them “brethren”, in verse eleven and other places. He clearly states (later on) that they had received the Lord by faith—that they had been saved by the Grace of God. And his question comes straight from his heart: “Why on earth would you toss aside a precious gift like that and try to build your own salvation?” He says, “I marvel that you are so soon removed from Him that called you unto the Grace of Christ, unto another Gospel!”
Paul could have been referring to the fact that he himself had called them via the True Gospel of Grace, but I tend to think he is referring to God, possibly in the person of the Holy Spirit. He told the church in Ephesus that there is only “one hope of our calling” (Ephesians 4:4)—so I think that if the hope of the calling is the same for all believers, then the caller has to be the same for all believers, as well. Romans 8:29, 30 states clearly that every believer is called by God. If God called you to Himself, to receive eternal life by Grace, though faith, then to turn your face in any other direction is to “turn away from Him who called you”. Paul was shocked to hear that they had already fallen prey to the legalizers who had followed him and Barnabas around, trying to dilute or supplant the message of Grace. (There is a God-given purpose for the Law: we will see later what that purpose is: but it cannot save. Only grace can save!)
Paul points out right away that there is really only one “good news” that is from God. The people preaching “Grace plus Law”, or “Law instead of Grace”, or whatever combination they came up with, were not really bringing a “different gospel”—they were subverting the faith of believers who had been on a right pathway, and perverting the Gospel of Grace so that it was no longer good news at all.
So what happened? How could anyone toss aside a great offer like that?
As it turns out, the idea that “I can (and/or must) do something to please God in order to be saved” appeals to our sin nature. We like the idea that we can control our destiny. People write poetry about it. (“Invictus”, by William Henley, is a prime example, where the writer grimly boasts “I am the master of my fate –I am the captain of my soul!” In reality, nothing could be further from the truth! But we want to believe it. This is nothing new.
Consider Genesis 3:7-10
We saw in the Garden that the very first response of Adam and his wife, when they discovered that they had become sinners, was to attempt to cover their own sin with the works of their own hands. (Remember the fig leaves?) They saw that they were naked (awareness of guilt), and they sewed together fig leaves to make aprons with which to cover their nakedness. On a horizontal, strictly human level, as they saw each other, they may have felt that the effort was quite successful…perhaps they even congratulated themselves that their new outfits were “…quite stylish…definitely an improvement over plain skin, don’t you think?.”
But what happened when God showed up? Remember, they “heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the Garden in the cool of the day” (by the way, as we discovered earlier, that was the pre-incarnate Jesus, in person)…and what was their response? They ran and hid. Why?
They themselves answered that question: “We were afraid, because…we were naked.” The human works accomplished nothing at all, when God was in the picture…they were still naked in His sight…and they knew it. By the way, God is always “in the picture!” We are never hidden from His sight. The only covering we can ever have is the one He provided, at the Cross. When we sing the Hymn, “The Solid Rock”, we say “When Christ shall come with trumpet sound, O may I then in Him be found, dressed in His righteousness alone, faultless to stand before the throne!” We need to be clothed by Him. Adam and Eve believed God, and He clothed them in the skin of the first blood sacrifice, looking forward to the Cross, still 4000 years in the future.
God warned the believers at Laodicea (Revelation 3) that they were poor and wretched and naked. They were believers…but had become accustomed to clothing themselves in their own, home-grown, self-justifying self-righteousness. And Jesus was warning them that they were just as naked as if they weren’t saved at all. It is even possible that some of the “members” there were not believers. But the warning was to a church, not a city council. We have to assume that the majority of the people he was warning were simply backslidden Christians.
God is Very Serious about the Gospel
What does Paul say about these folks who want to “re-write the Gospel” to make it read, “Well, yes, sin is pretty bad, all right; so you need to do a lot of good works to make God accept you.”? Or those who say, “Well, yes, Jesus died for your sins all right, but if you expect Him to keep you, you’ll have to do enough good works to earn your keep.”? Here is what He says:
8 But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.
9 As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.
This is a pretty strong statement. Let’s think through what he is saying, and consider why He says it. We have already determined that Paul was speaking to the believers in the province of Galatia. Actually, as we read through the missionary journeys of Paul, we can see that Paul probably led a lot of these people to Christ—his second missionary journey led through their area, at least, and some of the towns he preached in were definitely in that area.
He knew they started off with the pure Gospel, because he himself had personally delivered it to them. The Gospel he preached was the good news that:
- Jesus Christ died as full payment for their sins, and that
- He was buried, and that
- He rose again the third day, and that
- All God was asking them to do was to believe His word regarding that full payment, and trust in Him for salvation.
So, how can someone be deceived, and drawn away from such a clear message? Why would someone find legalism attractive at any level?
The fact is, we are the willing victims of our own sin, and we are willingly deceived:
- by our own deceitful hearts (Jeremiah 17:9),
- by the Evil World in which we live, (1st John 2:15-17) and
- by Satan himself, the original Deceiver. (Revelation 20:7, 8, 10)
We are not able to save ourselves, nor can we even bring a clean sacrifice to a Holy God. Everything we touch is contaminated by our sin. But we don’t like to admit that; not even quietly, to ourselves…especially not to anyone else.
So when someone comes along and says that we have to do something special for God, in order to be saved, we jump to believe it. It makes sense to us. Everything has a price, after all! But we do not realize the unfathomable riches of God’s Grace, and the fact that the price we offer, no matter how dear, is a laughable pittance, contaminated by sin at best, and an mortal insult to One who gave His only begotten Son for us.
Consider how you would feel, had your son or daughter willingly sacrificed his or her life to save someone else from death, and that person later offered you money: not as a gift of thanks, but to “pay for” the life of your child. What value could you settle on as being a “right price?” (Give that one some thought!) To a good parent, there is no amount, as a payment, that would be satisfactory, when their life had been given as a gift. It is an insult to even consider such a thing. It cheapens the gift, and despises the giver. Would you ever be able to forgive a person who tried such a thing?
As a matter of fact, God does offer forgiveness even for that sin…but he does not take kindly to folks who deliberately lead others astray, and thus keep them from receiving his Grace. He sees it pretty much the same as we would. People whose children have died from drug abuse do not think kindly of drug dealers, do they? And God has seen every single one of the human race who are precious to Him, dead because of Sin. He has given his own life to save them, and here is someone trying to turn people away from His Grace? What would your reaction be?
The fact is that God has placed a curse on anyone who ispersuading people to:
- Deny their sin (saying that Jesus died needlessly, in his/her particular case)
- Replace Grace with Works (thus offering a payment for His gift), or
- Adulterate Grace with Works (thus denying that the gift of Christ was enough).
He minces no words, here! If you teach some other Gospel (one of those three listed options) then you are in deep trouble with God. God makes the rules! No one has the right to change them. Also, don’t get the idea that the “rules changed”, in moving from the Old Testament to the New:
- No one has ever been saved by works. Abraham believed God and God counted it to him as righteousness. Adam believed God, and God clothed him in the skin of a blood sacrifice.
- No one has ever been kept by works. Ezekiel says that if you depend on your own righteousness, then the day you sin, all your righteousness will be rendered void, and you will die for your sin. (Ezekiel 33:13)
- The only thing different is how people are to express their faith. The Old Testament believers looked forward to a coming sacrifice they only vaguely understood. They offered the required blood sacrifice for sin, believing that God would honor His Word. We look back with a completed revelation, to a sacrifice we still only vaguely understand. We believe that God will honor His Word, and we, too, trust in Jesus’ blood at the Cross.
- Both groups—Old and New— are utterly dependent upon the Grace of God. Both are saved by that Grace…through Faith.
God says if it is byGrace, then it is not by works—and if it is by works, then it is not by Grace. The two are mutually exclusive. (Romans 11:6) The only good works that God asks of us are as a result of having already received His priceless gift. The gift was not to be earned by works, neither is it kept by works. It is all by Grace. We only serve out of Love and thanksgiving.
We saw earlier that whenever a person preaches against Grace, and supplants it with Law; that person, whether they know it or not, is working with Satan to prevent the salvation of lost people, and to prevent the effective service of believers who have already trusted in God’s grace.
Can you see why God would feel strongly about the practice of mixing Law with Grace for either Salvation or Sanctification? It cannot result in either Salvation for the unbeliever or Holiness for the believer. In both cases, it results in slavery to outward demands of legalism, and in the unbeliever’s case, it results in eternal loss in the lake of fire. What a horrible thing to do to other people!
So, how can we apply this idea? The most obvious thing is that when someone comes to my door telling me that I need to approach God differently than what it says right here, I will know that they are under a curse. I will not believe them, nor “study with them”, or anything else they want me to do. They are under a curse, and all I can offer them is the Mercy of God through the Cross.
We also need to be wary of “human wisdom” that suggests a “sure-fire plan” by which we can make ourselves acceptable before God. There is no such thing. God’s plan is very simple, and (possibly) boring: We are to trust God for salvation, through Jesus’ finished work at the Cross. We are then to trust him daily for the Holy Spirit’s guidance as we study His written Word, and learn obedience. No magic, here, folks…the song “trust and obey” pretty well says it all.
In my own life, if I catch myself thinking that the things I am doing are somehow “making me OK with God”, then I can back off and remind myself that the Blood of Jesus is the ONLY thing that can make me acceptable in His sight.
Finally, if I find myself judging other believers because they “aren’t living up to my standards”, I can be reminded that they, too, are under the Blood, and that God is able to make them stand. They are serving Him, not me.
May the Lord help us to recognize Law and Grace, and keep the two concepts separate. Amen!