This is one of my most favorite church memes! I can’t tell you how many times I have invited someone to come with me to church and quickly the conversation goes to how there are so many hypocrites in church, and so they don’t want to go! If we used that same logic in other areas of life, we’d never go to the dentist because there are people there with messed up teeth. We’d never go to the doctor because there are so many sick people. We’d never go to school because there are so many people there who don’t already know the answer. And, as the graphic here says, we’d never go to the gym because there are “out of shape people” there!
Of course, there are people at church who don’t have everything together! Thank goodness! I wouldn’t feel comfortable in a church where everyone is “picture perfect.” Church life is messy. In my short ministry, I’ve tried to help people through teenage pregnancies, ugly divorces, husbands leaving their wives after twenty plus years, parents watching their children really struggle with gender identity, and so much more. Church life is messy! Yes, we have died to sin and are alive to God! Yes, we are born from above and no longer from below. Yes, we are the very righteousness of God in Christ Jesus. Absolutely. But sin hasn’t died! Sin is still alive and well in our mortal bodies–in our flesh. To suggest that any Christian will always walk in the reality of his or her new life is unfair and unrealistic. We certainly desire to walk in the reality of who we are. It’s our ambition and one of our greatest desires. But as long as we live in these bodies where sin still lives, we’re going to have good days and bad days! We’ll walk in the victory that the Lord provides, but many days we won’t. When we don’t, Peter says that we have become blind and shortsighted having forgotten our purification from our old sins (2 Peter 1:9). This is why we are so passionate at Life Journey about reminding us all of who Jesus is, what Jesus has done, and now who we are in Him! If we sin by forgetting, let us be reminded all the more!
In Galatians 4:21-31 Paul addresses this very issue of hypocrisy. You see, many of the gentiles in Galatia had been duped and distracted by thinking their rightness with God was being managed by their ability to keep the Law of Moses. The Law of Moses is a combination of some 613 laws that God gave and Moses recorded them in the first five books of the Bible. The most famous of these 613 laws are, of course, the Ten Commandments. These commandments were very special in that they were given to Moses on Mount Sinai just after the Israelites were successfully delivered from their slavery in Egypt. Of all the 613 laws, these ten were engraved on stones. Sometimes they are even referred to as the “stone tablets.” In fact, of all the 613 laws of the Old Testament, just a portion of these laws were delivered while Moses and God were on Mount Sinai together. However, because of the uniqueness of the Ten Commandments, Mount Sinai has come to represent the entire law.
So far in Galatians, Paul has been puzzled by what the Galatians were doing. They had embraced their freedom in Christ, but they had tossed their freedom aside for rules–specifically the 613 laws of Israel. They had been distracted from the truth of Jesus to embrace Jesus plus Judaeo rules, laws, and customs.
So, get this picture, Galatian gentiles, who were never ever even invited to the Old Covenant Law-based system, are putting themselves under that old system in hopes of getting more than what they have freely been given already in Christ. As we saw last week, the Old Covenant was only offered to a specific people group, the Jews, for a limited specific period of time, from Mount Sinai until the promised seed–Jesus–would come to die. That’s it! The Mosaic Law was only for that specific group for that specific time! None of the Jews before Sinai were bound to the Mosaic Law! If you were to ask Joseph or any of his brothers, or any of the subsequent generations enslaved in Egypt about the Ten Commandments, they would have looked at you with all sorts of confusion! They were Jews, but they were before the Law was added. In the same exact way, you should be able to ask any Jew after Jesus about how they are doing with the Ten Commandments or any of the Laws of Moses, and they should respond with the same confused look because the Law was added before Jesus.
Jesus brings freedom! But instead of the Jews embracing their freedom in Christ, as Paul did, the Jews were demanding that gentiles be bound to the same Jewish Law that they themselves could never accomplish! What irony! So here you have these distracted and confused Judaizers (Jews who are demanding that gentiles become Jews in order to truly be saved) distracting and confusing gentiles!
But the Lord had given such great clarity on this very subject matter to the Apostle Paul that Paul even used the very words in the Old Covenant to show that the Old Covenant itself was to be set aside. You see, the gentiles (and the Judaizers for that matter) were throwing away something. They were throwing away their freedom that Christ had given them. As we saw in last week’s message, “To reject our freedom is to reject our Jesus, for Jesus set us free.” Inspired by the very Spirit of God, Paul calls these gentiles who have tossed aside their freedom for performance based intimacy with God what they actually are–HYPOCRITES.
Paul says, “You who wish to be under the Law, have you not heard the Law?” It’s like one of the worst “gotcha” moments ever! Most of these gentile believers in Galatia were illiterate Phrygian slaves. Usually, we’d expect Paul to say “have you not read the Law,” but the fact is they couldn’t read! Just as people were reading the very letter Paul sent them, they had to depend upon someone else to read the Law to them. Here’s the problem: do you think the ones who were trying to put the gentiles under the Law were eager to read the entire Law to them? I don’t think so! Not only was the Law (Genesis through Deuteronomy) very long to read, but, and here’s Paul’s whole point, if you were to read or listen to the Law you’d know that it is not compatible with the New Covenant of Grace that was promised long before the Law and that Jesus had come to establish.
For example, both Exodus 19 and Deuteronomy 28 outline the terms of the Old Covenant. The terms were God would do His part, IF the Jews did their part. Now I know that many people and denominations think that is the way the New Covenant works, but we know better. The terms of the New Covenant are God knows we are unable to do our part and so He didn’t give us a part. God did both His part, AND our part in the man Jesus Christ. The two covenants couldn’t be any different. In fact, God promised they would be totally opposite in Jeremiah 31:31-34. He promised that the New Covenant would be nothing like the Old Covenant. The Old Covenant had Ten Commandments etched on stone revealing the desires of God. In the New Covenant, the very desires of God are etched on our new hearts in the very person of Jesus Christ–God Himself–now with us!
Paul’s point is that if the Judaizers were honest with the Galatians, they would have read the Law to them, and it would have revealed that the Covenant of Law and the Covenant of Grace are not compatible whatsoever. Jesus said they were not compatible when talking about new wine and old wineskins. To mix the two is to destroy them both.
The absolute crescendo to Chapter 4 is that there is something we are to throw away, and it isn’t our freedom in Christ! Paul reveals the true hidden meaning between the lives of some historical figures in the Old Testament. Abraham had two sons. One was with the slave, Hagar. She bore Ishmael. The other son, the promised son, was with the free woman, Sarah. She bore Isaac. Paul says that Hagar, the slave, represents Mount Sinai. Mount Sinai is where God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. Sarah represents Jerusalem above which is free. Ishmael is a picture of the works of our flesh. Abraham produced Ishmael by his own effort with Hagar. Isaac is a picture of the fulfillment of God’s promise. You see, Sarah was barren. She couldn’t have children, and God promise was that she would. Abraham tried to help God out by cutting corners to bring about God’s promise. However, God didn’t, and still doesn’t, need any help to bring about His promise. In Genesis 21:10 Sarah told Abraham to “cast out the bondwoman (Hagar) and her son (Ishmael)” because Ishmael was bullying Isaac.
Paul sees this as a picture. The slavery of Hagar corresponds to the Mosaic Law and the slavery those under it are in. The works of Abraham’s flesh, Ishmael, corresponds to the works produced by this bondage to the Law. Paul quotes Sarah and says that we are to throw away the Law and the works of our flesh because we are not a part of the Law, nor the flesh, any longer. We are from a whole other origin now. We are actually from Jerusalem above.
Just as Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3, that flesh gives birth to flesh and Spirit gives birth to spirit, we have been born anew from the very Spirit of God. Our bondage to Law and the works of our flesh have been severed from our new life in Christ. We are to throw them away.
As controversial as it sounds, God is telling us in Galatians 4 that we no longer look to the Ten Commandments for life. We look to Jesus! Jesus, not the stone tablets, is our life. Jesus, not the Law, is our righteousness. Jesus, not the Torah, lives in us. Jesus, not mere knowledge of good and evil, is our guide. Jesus, not rules and regulations, is our holiness. Jesus, not our track record, is our glory. Jesus, not our ability, is our guarantee of perfect intimacy with God. Jesus…always Jesus. Jesus plus nothing!
What does this do to you? When you read the Holy Spirit penning these words through Paul that there is something to throw away, but it isn’t our liberty, but rather it’s Mount Sinai and the works of the flesh, what goes through your mind?
Let me ask you a question, which would you rather have, 613 (not just 10) Laws on paper for you to try your best to live up to, or the very One who perfectly fulfilled all of them living in you? You see, whether your list of “rules and regulations” have 613 items, 10 items, or even 2 items, the great error is that we think they are in our lives for us to live by them. Remember Galatians 3:12, “the law is not of faith.” If we choose to live by a code of conduct, a set of expectations, a list of what’s good and what’s bad, we are not living by faith. We are living by sight. There’s but one way to please God–without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6).
Here’s the invitation to you, throw away your lists. Cast off your codes. Trash your expectations. Get your eyes off of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and set your eyes on the tree of Life–Jesus Christ Himself! Faith is messy at times. We will all stumble in many ways. But one thing is certain, if you throw off your liberty in Jesus, you have thrown off the wrong thing!
But don’t take my word for it!
Questions to Consider:
- If you have ever read through Galatians before, what other conclusion have you drawn other than Paul’s command to throw the law and the works of our flesh away?
- Do you see the hypocrisy of embracing the very thing that instructs you to throw it away?
- In Community Group one night I asked, “Why are we so scared to live by the life of Christ in us?” A fantastic answer was, “We underestimate the new life we now have.” What about you? Do you fear that if you throw away the things you do that make you think you are good with God, that will lead you into anarchy? If you start living by your new life–the very life of Christ–do you think you will end up in anarchy?
- When you hear Paul’s command to throw away law-based living, do you wonder what you are to replace it with? What if there isn’t something to replace it with but rather Someone, Jesus, has already taken up residence in you since you started trusting Him and He’s primed and ready to start living through you as you walk by faith in Him?
- God demanded your faith in order for you to be saved. He demands nothing further now. Why do you think it is so hard to live by faith that Jesus can actually live the Christian life through us better than we could ever do it on our own?