Galatians Part 4: JESUS + NOTHING and Arizona SB1070

We learned in our previous Bible study, that that Jesus-plus-something perverts the gospel, the good news that Jesus did it all.  Jesus plus something isn’t an inconsequential version of the gospel.  It a perversion of the gospel (Galatians 1:7), because it takes “good news” of God’s unconditional love in Christ and throws the responsibility back on US.

Long-term relationship with God becomes conditional.  Christians are pretty confident that when you first get saved, it’s Jesus-plus-nothing.  But after you get saved, believers drift to Jesus-plus-something.  It’s like, grace is unconditional when you come to Jesus, but after you get saved, your on-going salvation is conditional.  Just how conditional it becomes depends on how you fill in this blank:  Yes, you have to believe in Jesus to get saved, but ______________________.  Paul puts it this way in Galatians 3:3:  “After beginning with the Spirit,” he writes, “are you so foolish to think that you are trying to attain your goal by human effort?”

Remember, Paul isn’t writing to people who are trying to find God, about how to get saved.  No, he’s writing to Christians who are confused about their salvation after Christ came into their life.  They were confused because Jewish believers were teaching new Gentile believers that, yes, you have to believe that Jesus is the Messiah and that, yes, Jesus died on the cross for your sins, but you also have to be circumcised and obey the laws of Moses to be saved.  (See Acts 15:1,5).  And that’s not Gospel “good news.”  That’s bad news!

But there’s more.  Jesus plus something ruins relationships.  Whenever someone adds something to Jesus, whenever the Christian faith becomes something other than Jesus, it’s always the “something” that throws a wrench into our relationships with one another.

Legalism and loopholes

Jesus-plus-something is legalism.  The more you add to Jesus, the more legalistic you become, and and the more that happens, the less tolerant you are of differences.  Self-righteous people are not known for being warm and caring.

Legalism always leads to hypocrisy, too, People who think of themselves as very religious are out of touch with the inconsistencies of their religious convictions.   Hey, everybody is inconsistent, but some people somehow think they aren’t.  Legalism has self-defeating loopholes that legalistic people can’t see for the life of them.  To challenge the pretentious uprightness of the religious community, Jesus taught:

You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, “Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.”  But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ [calls him a bad name] is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

In other words, if you think you’re pretty good for never killing somebody, if you just think about killing them, or wish they would die, or just call the guy in the other car on the freeway a nasty name, you are in danger of the fires of hell.

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus redefines adultery, too:  Guys, just look at a woman the wrong way, and you’ve broken one of the Ten Commandments.

Another example is Jesus’ persistence about healing people on Saturday, sabado in Spanish.  Keeping the Sabbath was, well, a fairly important God-rule.  In the Old Testament, God told the Israelites to kill people who worked on the Sabbath, and at the time of Jesus, although there is no record of the religious community actually executing anyone for breaking the Sabbath, they took it pretty seriously.

Here’s a story about Sabbath observance from Luke 14:1-6:

One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched.  There in front of him was a man suffering from dropsy.  Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” But they remained silent.  So taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him away.  Then he asked them, “If one of you has a son or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull him out?” 6 And they had nothing to say.

Loopholes!

Mark 2:20-28 tells reports:

One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”  He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.  Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

In other words, rules can’t always rule the day.  They’re not made to be broken, but sooner or later, a rule will stand in the way of reality.  Still not convinced?  Visit a law school library and check on the vast volumes of case law, where the court had to decided what to do when the “real” law didn’t fit the case.

I love this:  “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former” (Matthew 23:23).

Tales of tithing

When I preached about money at my church, from time to time I’d tell my congregation about how many checks in the offering plate were for odd amounts, like $123.14.  Or $71.40.  What’s up with that?  Were people paying their electric bill?  No, they were tithing!  Exactly 10%.  Oh yeah, I was really grateful for those who faithfully supported our ministry, but I also knew exact tithing betrayed a little legalism.

So I’d tell my folks, “Please be kind to our business office.  We are so grateful you are tithing, but when you write us check, round it up.  Or if you think we are trying to bleed a few more cents out of you, round it down.  God won’t judge you for giving 9.879% instead of exactly 10%.

Do you think my comments ruffled anyone’s religious feathers?  Oh, yes, it did!  One good family even left the church.  It was more important for them to give exactly 10% then to understand the broader principle of generosity.

Legalism is anal Christianity.

To sum it up, the legalistic Pharisees defined what it meant to have a good relationship with God, they were careful to live up the standards they had set for themselves, and they judged everyone on those standards.

[Jesus] told his next story to some who were complacently pleased with themselves over their moral performance and looked down their noses at the common people: “Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax man. The Pharisee posed and prayed like this: ‘Oh, God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, crooks, adulterers, or, heaven forbid, like this tax man. I fast twice a week and tithe on all my income.’

“Meanwhile the tax man, slumped in the shadows, his face in his hands, not daring to look up, said, ‘God, give mercy. Forgive me, a sinner.'”

Jesus commented, “This tax man, not the other, went home made right with God. If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face, but if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself.”

Luke 18:10-14 (The Message)

Like this Pharisee and the tax man, Jesus-plus-something builds a wall of separation, a great divided between the religious haves and have-nots.  On the other hand, Jesus-plus-something brings us together, because we know that no one of us is better than any other of us.  Jesus-plus-nothing is the great leveler.  It fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah that promises every valley will be lifted up and every mountain brought low.  In perverted contrast, Jesus-plus-something keeps us apart.  It’s “the something” that inevitably becomes our point of difference, then contention, and finally division.

Unconditional grace is a wide-open world of love, acceptance and forgiveness.  Jesus-plus-something is an closed world, a place of partitions, individual rooms, each defined by the people in that room.  Some rooms are fairly large, some accommodate only a handful, and some are closets of myopic reality for just one narrow-minded person.

Dividing walls of hostility

Speaking about this very relational side of the gospel, Paul writes in Ephesians 2:13-16:

13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.  14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.

Jesus made the two, Jew and Gentile (or any other two or three who can’t seem to get along) one, and he made this possible by destroying the barrier.  What’s the barrier?  The dividing wall of hostility.  Notice it’s not the dividing wall of difference:  circumcised or uncircumcised, Baptist or Pentecostal, Protestant or Catholic.  No, it the dividing wall of hostility, our sinful inability keep our differences from exploding into rage and division.

Instead, God’s plan was to make one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and to reconcile them both to God together through the cross … oh, I love this … by which he put to death their hostility.

When Jesus died on the Cross, he put an end to God’s wrath about our sins–and our separation from God as a result.  That would be hell.  Jesus died to reconcile us to God, but he also died to reconcile us to one another, to put an end to the hell of misunderstanding, hostility, unforgiveness and rejection.

Let’s pause here for a moment and try to find Jesus in the international controversy over the new immigration law in Arizona.  The more we disagree, the more we dig in our heals, the more we refuse to listen to one another, the more angry we become.  Our differences are the potting soil of hostility, and without Christ we are powerless to do anything other than defend ourselves and scandalize those who oppose us.

Here’s some non-Jesus advice:   If you disagree with somebody–in your family, at work, on the other end of the political spectrum, draw the line. Never give up.  Never give in.  Highlight the difference in red.  Blood red.  Never acknowledge that the person on the receiving end of your hostility is even slightly right.  Drag others into your hostility.  Make them really mad with you.

Make sure everyone knows you are entirely right and that other person is totally wrong.  In fact, make them out to be so totally wrong they become a non-person, someone to mock and scorn.  Whatever you do, don’t find any middle ground.  Build that wall.  Thicker. Higher.

I’m a registered Republican.  A conservative.  But “my people” are so angry.  Mostly, it’s not their church that’s making them angry.  It’s right leaning media.  Talk shows.  Man, I listen to some of those shows, and I start losing my Christianity.  There are just so many things in our world that aren’t right, and we all feel so helpless.  But James says it so clearly:

My dear brothers, take note of this:  Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires  (James 1:19-20).

Or you can repent.  Put Christ at the center.  Remove the log in your eye so you can see clearly that it’s just a speck in your brother’s eye.  You see, Jesus-plus-something isn’t just a good soteriology (the doctrine of salvation).  It’s the entry point to every relationship in life.

In The Message, Eugene Peterson paraphrases 2 Corinthians 10:3-6:

The world is unprincipled. It’s dog-eat-dog out there! The world doesn’t fight fair. But we don’t live or fight our battles that way—never have and never will. The tools of our trade aren’t for marketing or manipulation, but they are for demolishing that entire massively corrupt culture. We use our powerful God-tools for smashing warped philosophies, tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God, fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ.

Jesus-plus-something and ruined relationships according to Galatians 2

At the end of the previous chapter, Galatians 1, Paul tells the story of his years alone in the desert with God.  When Christ came into his life, the life he knew unraveled.  He needed time to put it back together.  To rethink everything he had believed.  To hear from God.  And this crazy idea about salvation totally by grace alone came to him during his three years there in Arabia.

In the opening verses of Galatians 2, Paul brings us forward, to the time when the idea of salvation by grace alone (Jesus-plus-nothing instead of Jesus-plus-circumcision) had become a point of discussion and controversy.

1 Fourteen years later I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also. 2 I went in response to a revelation and set before them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. But I did this privately to those who seemed to be leaders, for fear that I was running or had run my race in vain. 3 Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek. 4 This matter arose because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. 5 We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you.

6 As for those who seemed to be important—whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not judge by external appearance—those men added nothing to my message. 7 On the contrary, they saw that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles just as Peter had been to the Jews 8 For God, who was at work in the ministry of Peter as an apostle to the Jews, was also at work in my ministry as an apostle to the Gentiles. 9 James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews. 10 All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.

This meeting in Jerusalem to which Paul refers is not the same public event described in Acts 15.  Although it’s difficult to determine when, exactly, Paul had this private meeting with Peter and John, “the pillars” of the early church, many believe it’s parallel with Acts 11:30. Whatever the historical connection, however, the meat of this chapter is in the verses which follow.

11 When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. 12 Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. 13 The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.

14 When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?

15 “We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ 16 know that a man is not justified by observing 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 Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.

Here it is!  It’s the Jesus-plus-something problem in living color.  Jesus-plus-nothing isn’t just a doctrine.  It’s the foundation of how Christians ought to be living their lives, accepting themselves, and loving others unconditionally.  Yet legalism remains a temptation even for the very best of us, like Peter!  Can you believe it?!  The first apostle, Peter himself, came under the influence of the Jesus-plus-circumcision crowd.

Notice also that the power of legalism is fear:  “[Peter] was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision party.”  So he began “to draw back” and “separate himself from the Gentiles.

Paul, bless his stout heart, wasn’t afraid to call Peter’s behavior hypocrisy and oppose him “to his face.”  I would love to have been there to see that!  The Greek term here is a form of hypokrites, which meant literally, a stage actor, hence one who pretends to be what he is not.  The terribly sad thing about hypocrites, though, is that they have come to believe that their pretension is reality.

Even Barnabus was led astray.  Startling, because the name Barnabus means “son of encouragement.”  Legalism and hypocrisy–Jesus-plus-something–make a giant sucking sound.  They rip the love of God right out of us.  Even essentially good people become intolerant.

The apostle Paul got into Peter’s face, not because he was sinning, but because he was a bad example of grace.  He was mistreating those he considered lesser persons because of a good thing, circumcision, that became more important than the best thing, unconditional love and grace.

In embracing Jesus-plus-something, Peter was rejecting others, and in so doing was violating the core message of the gospel,  that we are saved by utterly unconditional grace.  If we think God accepts us conditionally, we will accept others conditionally.  If we are blown away about how God has accepted us unconditionally, we will be deeply humbled to love and accept others unconditionally.

In summary, here are four nasty symptoms of legalism:

  1. Separation from others, in the name of the Lord!  Think carefully about this.  Peter appeared to be uncompromising in his spiritual convictions, so much so that he was willing to break up his relationship with other believers in order to maintain his “integrity.”  The truth, however,  was that Peter, in his careful commitment not to compromise, was actually compromising!  He was compromising the gospel of grace!
  2. Fear. Fear is the motivation of religion without Christ.  But the Bible tells us, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18).
  3. Hypocrisy. Legalism always breeds pretense, because when you can’t be perfect, you have to put on a perfect face.  You have to pretend to be perfect.  Or you have to dumb down perfection, make it easier to be “perfect,” and live up to that.
  4. Man pleasing instead of God-honoring. “Even Barnabus was led astray.”  Bad religion affect even the nicest people.  Everyone begins to worry about what others are thinking, even those who are the most conscious of God’s grace, like Barnabus.  Barnabus, “the son of consolation,” a basically tolerant man, became intolerant.

So it doesn’t matter what we do, right?  That question seems to be everybody’s best reason for keeping Jesus-plus-something close to their heart, because Jesus-plus-nothing implies there are no rules, that maybe we can live like the devil, and God will keep just loving us!

Even Paul understood the implications of what he was writing.  So he asks the question in the next verse, verse 17:  If, while we seek to be justified in Christ, it becomes evident that we ourselves are sinners, does that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not!

Continue reading: Galatians Part 5: JESUS + NOTHING is an Excuse to Sin

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