Galatians Part 10: Honey, I just Shrunk Jesus

Galatians 5:1-6

Why did Paul write Galatians?  Because certain people, legalistic Christians known as Judaizers, were corrupting the Gospel by teaching that you not only have to believe in Jesus to be saved, but you have to be circumcised, too.  Bad news for Gentiles.

Broadly speaking, it was the problem of what I call Jesus+something.

It’s still a problem.

Just about everywhere in the Christian community, somebody is adding something to Jesus, telling us that you have believe he’s the Son of God, and that he died for your sins, but …

Simply put, Jesus+something is legalism.  It might be modest legalism, Jesus-plus-just-a-few-little-things,  or

Jesus
+
A LOT OF THINGS

In contrast, the unadulterated, uncorrupted Good News is Jesus plus nothing, and Paul’s letter to the Galatians is absolutely key, absolutely central to our understanding the doctrine of salvation in the New Testament.

Bible readers can find many statements in Scripture about how to get saved, how to stay saved.  The Apostle Paul, however, is the only New Testament writer who addresses the doctrine of salvation in a systematic way, and he does it in three places in the New Testament:

  • Acts 15, where we read about how the early church came to realize, long after Pentecost, that we are saved by grace alone.  At the Jerusalem Council, Paul had to explain unconditional grace to the founding apostles Peter, James and John–and to the mother church in Jerusalem.  Luke wrote Acts, of course, but under Paul’s supervision.
  • Romans, where Paul explains the doctrine of salvation systematically.  No other New Testament writer does this.
  • Galatians, where Paul talks about grace-alone, how easy it is to drift from the simple Gospel, and how Jesus+nothing applies to our walk with God and our relationships with one another.

The Bible tells us many things about how to be saved, how to know and live for God, how to be blessed.  Everything in the Bible is important, but only Romans and Galatians  explain salvation comprehensively.  So the writings of Paul must be our starting point for understanding this key element of the Christian faith.

When I hear some Christians talk about how to go to heaven, it doesn’t sound very systematic.  Most people, it seems, have a Bible-blender view of salvation:  a pinch of Peter, a dash of James, and a tablespoon of Paul.  And sometimes a good a cup or two of Moses and Ezekiel.

So many Christians are confused about how to get saved!  Well-meaning Jesus-followers tell us, “You have to believe in Jesus, but __________________________.”

So how do you fill in the blank?  What else is “essential” to salvation?  What would your pastor tell you?  Your Christian friends?

It’s hard to believe, hard to accept, that “my hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness.”  Our fallen world is so performance-driven that we can’t imagine unconditional love and grace.  We think God thinks like us, that he loves us up to a point, that “God helps those who help themselves,” and he doesn’t help those who don’t.

Remember, Galatians isn’t just about how to get saved, but how to live out the Christian life after Jesus comes into your heart.  Yet unmerited grace is as much a part of living saved as it is about getting saved.  In fact, the Bible suggests that there’s even more grace for those of us who have become the children of God:

Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! (Romans 5:9-10)

Christians, it seems, are pretty clear that human effort doesn’t save us.  But after you get saved?  Believers aren’t as clear about that.  Jesus accepts you just the way you are when you first come to him, but as the months and years go by, well, God isn’t nearly so forgiving, we think.

But the message of Galatians is that from beginning to end, from the “moment of salvation” when I’m born again to the minute I see Jesus face to face, my relationship with God is by grace alone.

Galatians is a book for Christians. We are saved by faith, but we also live by faith in Christ’s righteousness in us, which keeps us right with God even when we are not living right with God.

In Galatians 5, Paul is as clear as he can be that our relationship with God is based today and forever on Jesus plus nothing, how …

Jesus + nothing
CHANGES EVERYTHING!

I have a number of simple observations from Galatians 5.

First, Jesus sets us free, not human effort.

Galatians 5:1

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

We’ve been saved from sin and the futility of our own efforts to be good enough for God.  So if anyone is teaching Jesus+something, refuse to believe it!  Refuse to accept it!  Stand firm in the freedom of grace, and don’t let anyone drag you back under the slavery of legalism.

Jesus+nothing is everything.

The Lord is my shepherd, and I don’t need anything else.

Jesus is enough.

Second, if relationship with God is Jesus+something, then the work of Christ is worth nothing.

Galatians 5:2

Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all.

How could Paul be more clear?  And more offensive? Salvation is not based on Jesus plus circumcision, or on Jesus plus anything.  If you believe in Jesus+something, you neutralize the work of Christ in your life. Jesus+something means that Jesus isn’t really worth anything, that Jesus has “no value.” Jesus+something inevitably results in the incredible shrinking Jesus.  The more “somethings” you have, the less Jesus is everything.  They should make a movie about legalistic Christians,

Honey, I Just Shrunk Jesus

Third, if relationship with God is based Jesus plus something, then it must be Jesus plus everything.

Galatians 5:3

Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law.

Legalism is radically illogical.  If you’re going to add something to Jesus, like circumcision … or not drinking or smoking … or going and giving to church … or never getting angry again … or not believing in evolution … or not having an abortion … or … or …  then you have add everything. Jesus plus something is not really enough.  You either have to receive the perfect righteousness of Christ when you are born again and get new nature, or you have to be perfect.

Author and friend Dean Sherman says it this way:  If you think Jesus isn’t enough to save you, then “you have to do all the right things, at all the right times, for all the right reasons.”

Here’s an example of what God really expects of you.  It’s Jesus+something-on-steroids.

Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid.  But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”  ( Luke 14:12-14)

I don’t know any followers of Jesus who do this.  Not me.  Likely not you.  Not your pastor or Sunday school teacher.  Nobody.

Of the people who get uncomfortable with my teaching about Jesus+nothing, Christians who are convinced there’s more to salvation than “just believing,” who have a quiver full of Bible verses to prove grace is good enough to get you saved but not good enough to keep you saved, never quote this scripture.

Why not?

This particular teaching of Jesus doesn’t matter?  And you’re still saved even if you don’t

invite the penniless poor over to your house for dinner?  And inviting your friends for dinner is OK?  You think you’re still going to heaven?

Or do you just decide what’s really important to God?  Like circumcision.  Or never voting for a Democrat because they support abortion and gay rights?

Legalism  is never about what matters to God, only what matters to the legalist, to the Pharisee.

My point, of course, is that Jesus+something is a bottomless pit, a black hole.  It’s Paul’s point to.  If you add something to Jesus, you have to add everything.  You have to be perfect.

Yet Christ in you makes you perfect!  With Jesus in your life, you are perfect.

I can’t refer often enough to Hebrews 10:14:

By one [perfect] sacrifice he [Jesus] has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

“Made perfect” is teteleiōken, which means “completely, totally fulfilled.”  It’s the same term Jesus cried out on the cross, “Tetelestai! It is finished.”  He wasn’t simply referring to the end of his good life.  He was declaring to heaven and hell that, in that moment, his purpose was fulfilled, his sacrifice was perfect.

Fourth, Jesus plus something is really no Jesus at all.

Galatians 5:4a

You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ.

Stinging words, Paul!  Legalism doesn’t endear us to God.  It moves us away from God.  Human effort to be more righteous alienates us from Christ.

The second part of this verse, though, is perhaps the most misinterpreted statement in the Bible:

Galatians 5:4

You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.

Fallen from grace?  How do people usually use that phrase?  I just heard it again last week in the national media.  Sportscasters and other news gods announced that Joe Paterno, legendary football coach at Penn State, had “fallen from grace” because of his perceived complicity in a dreadful case of child molestation.

So we “fall from grace” when we do horrible things?  How horrible do they have to be?

Wait!  Look at the verse again:  “You who are trying to be justified by the law [by your human efforts, by Jesus plus something] … have fallen away from grace.

In other words, people don’t fall from grace when they sin. They fall from grace when they add good works to the finished work of Christ.  And when you do that, it means that you believe the work of Christ really isn’t finished.  That what he did on the cross wasn’t really enough.  That his sacrifice was great, but not perfect.  That in the The Passion, Mel Gibson should have doubled the length of the scenes depicting the Savior’s brutal beating.

Falling from grace has nothing to do with sin, and everything to do with legalism.

Jesus + something = falling from grace.

Think about it. If you can fall from grace because of something you do, or fail to do, then grace is conditional.  If you can lose, then you can earn it.  Yet the essential teaching of the Christian faith is that grace is unmerited favor, something you can’t earn. Something undeserved.  Something that comes to us when we are least worthy:

While we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son. (Romans 5:10)

Paul writes about the illogic of “earned grace” in Romans 4:2-5:

If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. 3 What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.

Eugene Peterson’s Bible translation The Message is usually helpful:

If Abraham, by what he did for God, got God to approve him, he could certainly have taken credit for it. But the story we’re given is a God-story, not an Abraham-story. What we read in Scripture is, “Abraham entered into what God was doing for him, and that was the turning point. He trusted God to set him right instead of trying to be right on his own.”

If you’re a hard worker and do a good job, you deserve your pay; we don’t call your wages a gift. But if you see that the job is too big for you, that it’s something only God can do, and you trust him to do it—you could never do it for yourself no matter how hard and long you worked—well, that trusting-him-to-do-it is what gets you set right with God, by God.

Sheer gift.

Fifth, my present efforts don’t sustain my relationship with God.  Rather, it’s the “righteousness for which we hope.”

Galatians 5:5

But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope.

This one of those crazy, amazing  statements in the Bible.  For some reason it hasn’t found its way into our Christian-speak like “all things work together for good,”  or “God so loved the world…”  So most of you reading this probably are completely unfamiliar with this scripture.

Yet it’s is the central truth of the Gospel.  It’s at the very core of salvation by grace alone.  Let me explain it this way:  Ever feel less than the best?  Like you aren’t nearly as Christian as you’d like to be?  Should be?  Like friends have even told you, “If you really asked Jesus to come into your life, why do you keep doing that?”

Your bad feelings are perfectly biblical.  Even the apostle Paul wrote in Romans 7,

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. … For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing….  For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am [italics mine].

Oh, God!  How many times I’ve said that!

But here’s the question:  How do you make those bad feelings go away?  A lot of good Christians would think, deep inside, “I just need to be a better person.  Try harder.  Do less and less bad things.  Do more good things.  Give a little more money to my church. That’ll make me feel better!”

But guess what?  That never works. There’s always something in us that isn’t right.  We have that not so small voice reminding us that we aren’t what we should be.  It’s a major reason why my cousin, Jeff, took his own life. Left behind a young wife and two small children.  He just couldn’t live with what he was.  What he should have been.  And the demon of failure finally won.

I’ve spent my life in full-time ministry.  I’ve been a successful pastor.  Earned two seminary degrees.  Written books.  Helped thousands of people.  Yet hardly a day goes by without emptiness in my soul.  Daily, it seems, I walk through the valley of the shadow of failure.

At www.despair.com, you can find large “demotivational” poster of a track star sitting on a bench, hanging his head.  Under the photo are the words:

LOSING
When your very best isn’t good enough

What to do?  Where do I turn?  What saves me in those moments?  It’s what Paul declares in Romans 7 and 8, just a couple sentences after his “wretched man” confession:

Who shall rescue me from this body of death? … So then … in the sinful nature [I am] a slave to the law of sin. Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.  For what the law [human effort] was powerless to do … God did by by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us.

Jesus died to take away my sins, but he also gave his life to impart to me his perfect righteousness.  He took my sins and went to hell.  In exchange, he gives me his perfection and I go to heaven!

Through the work of Christ, the righteous requirement of the law is fully met in me! He has made me absolutely perfect forever!

I am fully righteous before God.  It’s the perfect righteousness of Christ that comes to me when I believe, and every day, when I know I’m not good enough, by faith I eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which I hope.

Sometimes crimes are so heinous that the court gives the criminal two hundred or more years in prison.  A single lifetime of punishment isn’t enough.

What does God think of me without Christ?  I’d need multiple lifetimes to pay the debt.  It’s why some people believe in Purgatory.  Yet while God’s forgiveness through Christ covers my past, the righteousness of Jesus covers my future.  By faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope.

Lastly, in Jesus, the only things that count are faith and love. It’s not Jesus plus faith and love.  But in Jesus there is faith and love.  And just as there is freedom in Christ, there is freedom in faith and love.

Galatians 5:6

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

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