Beware of Religion
Text: Galatians 2
Proposition: Religion is held as the conduit to righteousness but it’s not. The only conduit to righteousness is the cross of Christ, it’s justification by faith alone.
Introduction: So how religious would other people say you are? You don’t swear, you do read your Bible; you don’t drink, you do pray; you don’t wear revealing clothing, you do dress modestly; you don’t put just spare change in the offering, you do tithe 10%; you don’t read horoscopes, you do read prophesy; you don’t go the rink on Sunday, you do come to church; you don’t smoke, you do communion; you don’t watch pornography, you do watch 100 Huntley Street. I think that sometimes people use these kinds of comparisons to describe what it means to be religious. The great danger of religion for Christians is that it blurs what Christ did with what I do or don’t do, it mistakes the way of salvation with the way of sanctification. Have a look at this short You tube that helps to amplify this same thought: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1IAhDGYlpqY Have a look at Galatians 2.
I. The Danger of Religion Is That It Self Justifies.
For fourteen years Paul had preached and taught in a variety of churches throughout Galatia. Then some of the Jewish believers from Judea came to the churches in Galatia and began to create a crisis within them. If you were to go to Acts 15 you could read Luke’s history of what took place. In essence these Jewish believers were saying that Gentiles needed to first convert to Judaism before they could then become Christians. They were teaching that Judaisim was the conduit they needed to enter into first in order to gain faith in Christ. That conduit was the Mosaic Law, the directives that God gave to Moses to make the people of Israel distinct from other nations. There were moral laws against things like adultery, murder, theft and covetousness. There were spiritual laws against idolatry and profaning the name of the Lord. There were dietary laws directing which foods should not be eaten. There were covenantal obligations like all males at the age of eight days old to be circumcised and the keeping of the Sabbath. In short they demanded that this religion of do’s and don’ts was essential for salvation. In verse 2 Paul says that God directed him to go to Jerusalem, by revelation as he puts it. He goes to speak with Peter, James and John and the other leaders of the faith to stop this corrupting influence before it undid all that had been accomplished in the last 14 years. This religion of ‘legalistic Judaism plus Jesus’ was killing the church.
The great danger behind all religion is that it misses two important things:
1. It misses the fact that the spirit of man apart from faith in Jesus Christ is not just sick, it’s dead. That means that I can only see things through my carnal understanding of good and evil, right and wrong. I can’t see what God sees because my spirit was dead. It means that I can’t see the depth and danger of my own sin nature.
2. It misses the fact that because I can’t see what God sees I am drawn to make up my own rules as to what it takes to be a good person, I create my own standards and methods to being righteous before God.
So Paul speaks with the leaders in Jerusalem and the outcome is what is recorded in verses 7 to 10. They recognize the way that God is working through Paul and the others, they endorse his ministry with the right hand of fellowship and they ask only that he remember the care for the poor. They also by inference do not support the circumcision of the Gentiles nor the conversion of them to Judaism as a means to salvation. All the apostles knew what Jesus had said about the dangers of religion, how Jesus had spoken about the way that self- justification is endless in how it seeks to self- glorify. The Pharisees were the ones Jesus referenced in this.
II. The Danger of Religion Is That It Demands Outward Conformity. Look at verse 11, “Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed…”. Paul returns from Jerusalem to Antioch and a short while later Peter comes to Paul’s church. But the significance of this verse is that it refers to a public confrontation Paul had with Peter. It seems that Peter had been there a short while when a number of others shortly arrived who were closely associated of the apostle James. There was a pot luck lunch happening, even a time of communion and when Peter sees these friends of James there he pulls back from eating with the Gentile believers in Antioch. That did not go unnoticed by the others. Look at verse 13, “And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy.” Religion can demand a conformity that has nothing to do with righteousness. This isn’t a new thing, in the 4th century Augustine wrote, “It is not the being seen of men that is wrong but doing these things for the purpose of being seen of men. The problem with the hypocrite is his motivation. He does not want to be holy; he only wants to seem to be holy. He is more concerned with his reputation for righteousness than about actually becoming righteous. The approbation of men matters more to him than the approval of God.” This was the sin of Peter and it was this sin that spread like wild fire. It was this serious danger to the church that caused Paul to publicly confront Peter on what he was teaching others through his actions. After all, it was Peter who had the vision from God that said what God calls clean no man should call unclean. It was Peter who first went to Cornelius the Centurions house and lead them to the Lord. It was Peter who reported that God had poured out His Spirit upon the Gentiles even as He had upon the them. So Paul points out the hypocrisy of conforming back to old ways like shunning the Gentiles. Then Paul makes this rather stunning statement in verse 17, “But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is Christ therefore a minister of sin? Certainly not!” What is Paul saying here? Think of it like this. Christianity lies at the center point between two opposing and distorted views. On one side is legalism which proclaims that we must do certain things to be righteous before God. If we stop doing those things we loose our righteousness and even worse, we never know if we have done enough right things so we never have an assurance of our salvation. On the other extreme is something called antinomianism, literally it means ‘against law’. This belief in it’s extremes holds that once you are saved it doesn’t matter how you behave or to what degree you really obey God. So Paul asks, “…is Christ therefore a minister of sin?”, meaning does Jesus give us a freedom in our salvation that then frees us to sin because we are saved and that’s all that counts? Absolutely not is Paul’s response.
In the center, the gospel of Christ center, is the position of justification by grace through faith. When God by His grace draws us to Himself by showing us the reality of our sin, offering to us an absolute forgiveness of all our sin when we by faith ask Christ to be our Savior, then we repent of our so called freedoms and give our lives to Christ…the sum total of those actions is that we are justified before God. The very word ‘justified’ means to be pronounced righteous. It is a once for all time action, an eternal reconciliation with God because of the blood of Jesus Christ on the cross. Your sin is put upon Christ and His absolutely perfect right standing with God the Father is now wrapped around you in an everlasting way.
The intent of the Law was never to bring justification, it was meant to be like a light that shines in order to expose cavities, the Law exposes the damaging effects of sin. But that’s all it could do, the light of the Law had no power to redeem nor to reconcile. That would require One who is sinless, perfect in state and perfect in capability, Jesus Christ. If there is to be a conformity in our lives let it be to Christ. Remember 2 Corinthians 3:18… “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.”