Don’t Go Back to Slavery

Title: Don’t Go Back to Slavery

Text: Galatians 5:1-12

Time: March 10th, 2011

Jay Bakker is the son of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker of PTL fame, and he’s the pastor of a small church in New York City. He’s also just written a new book on the topic of Christianity that I had the chance to thumb through while I was in the Border’s Express bookstore in Jackson last week. In this book Jay Bakker makes the astonishing claim that while reading the Book of Galatians – the book of the Bible we are currently studying – that God opened his eyes to the amazing truth that Christians are no longer under the Law of God and therefore are no longer required to obey biblical morality. Since the Apostle Paul teaches in the Book of Galatians that we are saved by grace through faith alone, not by obedience to the Law of God, then that means we are no longer obligated to follow the morality of the Bible. As an example of this, in the book Jay Bakker says that homosexuality is no longer a sin because we are no longer under the law, but under grace. As I read a little further in his book I thought to myself, “What a massive misreading of the Book of Galatians this is.” We’ve been studying Galatians for about six months now and I’ve never gotten the impression that Paul is teaching that morality no longer applies because we are saved by grace through faith. Have you thought that? According to Jay Bakker, son of Jim and Tammy Bakker, Paul teaches in the Book of Galatians that Christians are now free from the Law of God and therefore obedience to God’s Law is optional. Now what’s wrong with this picture? Here’s what’s wrong. Jay Bakker is misunderstanding the Apostle Paul in Galatians by imagining that it’s saying since we are saved apart from morality that morality is optional. He thinks that because we are saved by faith alone apart from the law, then that means we can live our lives apart from the law as well. But this is a great big misunderstanding of what Paul is saying in the Book of Galatians. The Apostle isn’t saying that salvation by grace through faith does away with right and wrong – or does away with God’s moral will for our lives. No, we aren’t under obligation to keep the moral law in order to be saved – we are saved by grace through faith alone, apart from the law. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t under obligation to keep the moral law in our daily living. Murder is still a sin, it’s still wrong. Adultery is still wrong, is still sin, it’s prohibition is still a moral command we are obliged to obey. What we see happening with Jay Bakker and others is a great big confusion over the law and grace, a confusion of salvation with morality. That’s how he and other Christians can justify homosexuality and same sex marriages – and other things that the Bible clearly teaches are wrong. He thinks grace makes these things ok today, but he’s wrong. Let’s learn a little more about what Paul is actually teaching in Galatians today. Galatians 5:1-12 (read).

First, Christ has set us free, so let’s not turn back to slavery. Galatians 5:1, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves by burdened by a yoke of slavery.” To Jay Bakker, who used to go by the name Jamie Charles when he was younger, this verse is an example of how morally free we are since God’s grace rescued us from the slavery of the law. As an aside, I remember seeing a Christmas card picture of Jim and Tammy Bakker standing alongside their children, Jamie Charles and Tammy Sue Bakker. My grandmother had received it from PTL one year in December because she supported the ministry. But anyway, Jay Bakker and others like him, misread Galatians at this point. Paul isn’t talking about morality; he’s talking about salvation. He’s not telling people that God’s grace does away with God’s moral will for mankind. No. He’s telling people not to return to salvation based on moral performance to the Law of God. He’s telling people not to return to the religion of the Pharisees, who supposed that salvation was a matter of obedience to the moral will of God. Paul has already explained countless times that we can’t obey the whole law, we can’t even obey hardly any part of the law consistently or perfectly. Salvation therefore can’t come through obedience to the moral Law of God, it has to come apart from the law, by grace through faith in what Christ has done on our behalf. Ok, that’s pretty clear from the Book of Galatians. So then, when we come to parts that speak of freedom and slavery, we need to understand these concepts in context, not out of context like Jay Bakker does. What does freedom mean in context? Freedom means that I’m no longer under the burden of being obligated to meet a requirement I can’t fulfill; I’m no longer under the pressure of being commanded to obey the Law when I can’t succeed at obeying it. I’m free from that moral impossibility. A Pharisee, for example, thought that salvation was a matter of obedience – you obey the Law of God, then you are saved. Of course, they fudged things here and there, conveniently overlooked this or that law, refused to admit that they failed to obey fully God’s Law, but apart from these inconsistencies, the Pharisees taught a doctrine of works-righteousness – that is, one can be saved through obedience. Now that’s slavery, because you are caught in an impossible situation. You are obligated to obey the whole Law of God to be saved, but you can’t obey the whole law, so you live in denial and cover-up. What God’s grace does, in contrast, is to free us from the impossible moral obligation of obedience to Law. God’s grace saves us apart from the Law; it saves us through faith in Christ. So then we truly are free from the pressure and threat and fear of judgment and damnation for failure to obey God perfectly. We are free from pursuing salvation by works; we are free from the slavery that brings. But Jay Bakker confuses this to mean freedom from any morality at all. Paul is warning people from returning to salvation-by-works after they’ve been introduced to salvation-by-grace through faith.

Second, justification by Law is slavery, while justification by faith is freedom. Galatians 5:2-6, “Mark my words! I Paul tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again, I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” The issue was salvation. A group of Pharisee converts to Christianity came from Jerusalem to Galatia while Paul was away on missionary travels and started teaching the Christians there they needed to obey the whole Jewish law in order to be saved. The Apostle gets wind of this and writes a letter to the church – the Book of Galatians – in order to set them straight. Evidently, the Judaizers from Jerusalem had convinced some of the men to go through the rite of Jewish circumcision in order to live under the full commands of the Law of God. Now this is perfectly legit for Jews or people of Jewish decent to do, because for them it would be following their national custom. But to have these Gentile converts to Christianity submit to Jewish circumcision just in order to come into conformity to the legalistic system of salvation taught by the Pharisees was wrong. It gave the false impression that in order to be saved, in order to be made right or justified in God’s eyes, obedience to the details of the Jewish law was required. In this case, circumcision. It symbolized the old works-righteousness system that the Jews operated under before Christ. Now in our context today, circumcision is practiced, but it’s a different context from the one in Galatia in the 1st Century. Today, parents don’t circumcise their boys in order for them to be saved, or to be obedient to Jewish law. There are many reasons why most boys today are circumcised, but they aren’t for spiritual reasons. But back then, these Pharisees had convinced a number of the Christian men to become circumcised for spiritual reasons, in order to be saved, in order to come into obedience to the Law of God. Paul is trying to correct this mistake because he could see that the way things were going pretty soon the whole Christian church in Galatia just might convert back to the way things were before Christ. Instead of the First Baptist Church of Galatia, it would become the First Jewish Congregation of Galatia. Paul was doing everything he could to prevent that. We need to also be alert in our own lives and in the life of our church that we never confuse God’s grace through faith with obedience to the Law of God. Only God’s grace through faith frees the soul from the impossible burden of obedience to the law. Dismissing Grace and returning to Law is like giving up freedom and returning to slavery. Not a good idea!

Third, why would anybody who is spiritually free return to slavery? Galatians 5:7-12, “You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. ‘A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.’ I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion will pay the penalty, whoever he may be. Brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!” The Apostle Paul had evangelized these Christians initially, led them to Christ, and established a church in the city of Galatia. He had taught them the difference between salvation by grace through faith and salvation by works in obedience to the Law. While these were Gentiles, not Jews, so they didn’t have the Bible-based laws of traditional Judaism, they did have the basic moral laws of society and there own particular pagan religious rituals and practices. Paul taught them that no laws could save them, whether divine law or natural law. Nobody can live up the law fully in any way; nobody can live up to biblical law, nobody can live up to natural law – that is, the law that we find in our conscience, for example, or self-evident laws found in society. Salvation by works is a dead end street. Only through Christ, his life, death, and resurrection, can we be saved, only through faith in Christ, apart from law. Now that good news set these people, as it does all people, free. It lifts the conscience and blesses us internally. I hope you’ve experienced the great relief in knowing that your guilt has been cleared by Christ, that your burden has been lifted by the grace of God. But why would these people set free in spirit turn from that freedom and go back to the slavery and burden of the Law?  They got confused. They got mixed up in their thinking. These Jerusalem Jews must have been pretty impressive, at least with credentials and their methods of persuasion, because they were able to convince free people to become slaves again. Now can that kind of thing happen today? Yes, unfortunately it can. If the right circumstance comes along, and the right people, and enough false teaching and confusion comes along, yes, good people can get caught up in heresy and apostasy. Just look at the main-line denominational churches today if you doubt it. Billy Graham used to say at the end of his broadcasts, “And be sure to go to church this Sunday.” But that’s a dangerous thing to say today because of all the corruption, heresy and apostasy in churches today. Yes, good people can be led astray, even today.

But what can be done to prevent someone from leading others astray? Well, we have to be willing to speak the truth, yes, with love, but we must speak the truth. A lot of churches are afraid to speak the truth today because it might offend somebody. That’s where a lot of false teaching comes in, through the courtesy and politeness of church people – nobody wants to say anything or hurt anybody’s feelings even though false doctrine is being taught. Paul is not guilty of that in this letter or in any of his letters. He teaches us to promote the truth even if it offends people. Look what he says here about these false Pharisee converts to Christianity, “As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!” I hope I don’t have to describe what he’s talking about here because it might get pretty embarrassing. But you get the point. Paul is being very blunt, very straightforward, and very forceful. The stakes are too high to mince words. These Judaizers as they are called were threatening the core message of Christianity. They were introducing false teachings concerning the gospel or good news. They were teaching salvation by works instead of salvation by faith alone. They were a threat to the spiritual health of the church. They were even putting in jeopardy the salvation of believers. This was a big deal! Paul couldn’t hold back out of politeness or sensitivity or niceness. He had to address the problem directly and speak bluntly. But today, lots of church leaders refuse to address important issues out of fear of offending people. Other leaders claim that it’s better to not divide the church, to keep the peace, not disrupt the faithful. But that’s just not a good enough excuse to not intervene. I mentioned Jay Bakker. Somebody needs to tell him that he’s teaching heresy, that he’s teaching false doctrine, that he’s leading people astray. We need to rebuke pastors and church leaders and denominational executives when they attempt to lead the church into error. Today, there are more and more churches willing to justify and endorse same-sex relationships. The excuse is that God made them that way so we shouldn’t call them to repent and reform their lifestyles because that’s the way God made them. We should just love and accept homosexuals and their lifestyle. We should ordain them in church ministry or conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies. That’s what Jay Bakker and others are saying. They point to the Book of Galatians and say, “Doesn’t Paul say we are free from the Law of God?” But again, from the context it’s clear that Paul is talking about salvation, not morality. We are free from the Law as far as salvation is concerned; we are not free from the Law as far as our moral conduct. We are still called to holy living, and salvation doesn’t do away with that calling.

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