The Cure For the Great Indifference
Text: Galatians 3: 1-5
Proposition: The legalism that insinuated itself into the church in ages past has changed from the rigidity of do’s and don’ts to an ambivalence that replaces faith.
Introduction: When we read passages of Scripture like those in Galatians which warn us about being too legalistic, absorbed with all sorts of rules that need to be kept in order to be righteous, we can sometimes feel a great distance between this warning and our present day. Before, there was legalisms sharp contrast of black and white law that intimated if we ‘do’ this or that we get closer to righteousness and if we ‘don’t’ we move farther away from righteousness. Today it’s as though the enemy of our souls has adopted a slightly different twist in order to cause us to take our eyes off of Christ. Now the strategy seems to be a swamping of us in litigation, in shades of gray, an excess of information, choice and values that crash our minds and hearts. Various sources estimate that an adult makes about 35,000 remotely conscious decisions each day. In fact we make about 250 decisions each day on just food alone according to researchers at Cornell University. With such a flood of information and choices it’s easy to hit places of decision fatigue and we along with our world are tempted to be moved to a growing indifference. That is particularly true in regards to our indifference to God, to His Word and even in His church. Terry Eagleton, the British literary theorist and critic, writes that “societies become secular not when they dispense with religion altogether, but when they are no longer especially agitated by it.” Timothy Keller quotes that line in his book, ‘Preaching’, and then adds this observation, “Today we are seeing growing numbers of people who do not exhibit hostility to religion as much as indifference.” Is this growing indifference to the Gospel also an influence inside the church today? Is it the belief that what we need to do to be right with God is… nothing, a nothing that accepts indifference as a right response of faith? If indifference is a creeping apathy in the church today then its effect can be every bit as corrosive as legalism’s. Paul’s argument against legalism then also becomes a present-day argument against legalisms counterpart, indifference. Have a look at Galatians 3: 1-5.
I. The Drift of Faith That is the Effect of Losing Sight of Christ.
There is a proverb that’s repeated twice in Scripture perhaps because we need it more. It simply says, “There is a way that seems right to a man but its end is the way of death.” What it refers to can be many things that we think is the right way but we are wrong. The ultimate cause of death is sin. Until sin came into the world there was no death. So when we find a way that seems right to us but it involves sin then the final outcome will be a separation that we call death. Legalism is something that can seem so right. It says that my way to being right with God is to do right things. The more right I do the more right I am, it is a self generating view of righteousness. The problem with that is that it generates a self righteousness, a presenting of yourself to God on your terms not His. The Pharisees of Jesus day were professionals at self righteousness yet all of us can slip into that mind set very easily. If we were to say that we can be righteous before God because of what we do then we really don’t need Christ and the cross of Christ was in vain. From God’s point of view we as people are so skewed by our sin nature that our motives are self promoting always. So He says, “There is none righteous, no not one.” The purpose of the cross of Christ was to have that which was impossible for us to generate (righteousness) be given to us in the form of an exchange. The great exchange was the righteousness of Jesus Christ given to us and our sin given to Him. That is the only way that we can be justified, counted as good enough in God’s view. Paul had taken time and effort to explain that to the people of the Galatian churches. They had received it and then some had begun to add things to their justification, things like what kind of foods to eat, whether to be circumcised, keeping the Sabbath and on and on as expressions of gaining righteousness. It’s why he says with a great deal of exasperation, “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified?” That word ‘bewitched’ refers to the way a snake can mesmerize it’s prey, causing them to standstill as it closes in on them. Legalism has the mesmerizing effect of trying to be good enough for God apart from what Christ did as though it somehow needed to be improved upon. It is in Paul’s words, ‘foolish’. I think that the counterpart of legalism is indifference, it does the exact opposite of legalism but expects the same outcome. Indifference too is a paralysis of faith, it says that Christ did it all so there’s nothing any of us need to do. At its’ least it is apathy and at its’ extreme it turns into universalism, a belief that all people are basically righteous and that all people will experience ultimate acceptance with God after death, all people go to heaven. That view does the same thing with the cross that legalism does, it says it is not necessary for righteousness and thus Jesus death of the cross as the Son of God was a great mistake. So how did we ever get to the place of thinking that we who once needed God for life itself now need God only as a life coach? Look at what Paul says next.
II. God’s Solution For Man” Problem, He Gave Himself to Us.
A father was driving down the road one summer day and suddenly a wasp flew I the open window. His young son sitting beside him was deathly allergic to wasp sting. As the wasp grew more and more irritated it was just inches away from the boy so the father reached out and grabbed the wasp and closed his hand around it absorbing the sting and saving the boy. That’s the Gospel, that’s the good news for each of us, God our heavenly Father found a way to take the sting for us. When you see that and believe that the sting of death comes from our sin and that God took the penalty of our sin by wrapping Himself around it in the person of Himself in Christ Jesus then you see that righteousness is the direct result of what Jesus did not the result of anything we can do. When we receive that truth by faith something incredible happens. We are made alive in Christ! God the Father gives us life through Jesus Christ. He then gives us the Holy Spirit to now live that life. So Paul says in verse 2, 3 “This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?” What he says is right, when we believed in Christ as our Savior we began life again. This time it was with the Spirit of God indwelling us, directing us, correcting us, keeping us. Why is that absolutely critical? It’s because up until that point we are spiritually dead, unable to pick up on what God’s word declares, unable to tell the difference between which way we should go. ‘There is a way that seems right to a man but its end is the way of death.’ The Holy Spirit within helps us to see what we couldn’t see before. When God gives us His Holy Spirit it’s Him giving Himself to us because we can’t make it by ourselves. Apart from the Holy Spirit directing us legalism and indifference are what our efforts amount to.
So Paul asks us all a question about the way the Holy Spirit works within us (verse 5), “Therefore He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you, does He do it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?” This question is really directed to two separate groups of people here this morning. It’s a question asked to those who have begun a life of faith in Christ and have seen miracles done in their own lives, they have a faith in Christ as their Savior and Lord and yet legalism or indifference have crept in. It is to you a call, an invitation to agree with God about that which He knows needs to change in you, not as an effort to righteousness for you possess that already in Christ. It is rather a response of faith to grow in faith that will more accurately reflect the person of Christ in the church of Christ. The second group of people here today that this question is addressed to are those who are yet to begin, those who have yet to agree with God about the ruin that sin brings to all of our lives. It’s a ruin that is the most devastating in the way it separates us from God. It is a separation that is marked by a dead spirit, an inability to know the Word of God nor to be reconciled to God. It is to you that the invitation is held out, agree with God about the existence of your sin, accept His offer of Himself for you, know the absolute forgiveness of all sin, know and receive Jesus Christ as the only One who saves all who come to Him.
It’s time to begin. This is the only cure for the great indifference.