Don’t Abuse God’s Grace

Title: Don’t Abuse God’s Grace

Text: Galatians 5:13-15

Time: March 20th

Last week I talked about this new book by Jay Bakker, the son of Jim and Tammy Bakker of PTL fame, where the Book of Galatians is taught from a confused and mixed up angle. Jay Bakker is now the pastor of a church named Revolution in New York City that meets in a bar called Pete’s Candy Shop. What does he teach the people of this small church of two dozen? He teaches them that the Apostle Paul in Galatians says that since we are saved by God’s grace through faith alone the Law no longer applies to us as Christians. In other words, salvation by grace alone through faith alone means we no longer have to obey or follow any of the moral commands of the Bible. That’s Law, he says, and we are now no longer under Law but under grace. He quotes from the Bible but also criticizes the Bible. For example, in the Book of Acts in the account of the Jerusalem Council where the leaders decide that Gentile converts don’t have to conform to the Jewish laws for salvation, only they must obey the basic moral commands, such as sexual morality, Jay Bakker criticizes this decision as “adding extra laws to God’s grace.” He thinks the early Christian leaders got it wrong! He also criticizes the Apostle Paul for instructing the church in 1 Corinthians 5 to excommunicate an unrepentant immoral man. Jay Bakker thinks Paul slipped back into the Law in that case and forgot about grace in that instance. He thinks Paul should have let the man be, just as he was. And so on. What’s happening here? Jay Bakker is typical of many people today, many who would call themselves Christians, who think that grace is a license to sin. That’s what it boils down to for many people today, including many Christian leaders and pastors. Grace, to them, basically means that God is ok with whatever we do, since Christ died for our sins, there’s nothing we can do that’s wrong today. If that’s the case, we should just live and let live. Notice how that sounds an awful like the general popular culture today. Isn’t that what non-Christians, modern, secular, relativistic, immoral, pagan pop culture is saying – live and let live? Don’t judge anybody in their sins because after all you don’t want anybody judging you in your sins. Only for people like Jay Bakker, they take a religious tone to the whole popular culture belief of “live and let live” and add this, “We should live and let live, because anyway if Christ died for our sins and we are no longer under the Law, then what difference does it make how we live, God still loves us anyway.” Well, today, we’re going to answer that question, because it just so happens our verse of the day deals with that topic. Galatians 5:13-15 (read).

First, God’s Word says not to abuse our freedom. Galatians 5:13, “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature.” What’s Paul saying? He’s saying as Christians we are free from the Law as far as salvation is concerned. We are free from the penalty of the Law or the wages of sin. Christ paid our debt on the cross. Jesus took upon himself the penalty for our disobedience and sin and rebellion against God, so that now we are free from the Law in the sense of having to fulfill its requirements with our life in order to be saved. I’m no longer under the pressure to perform up to the perfect standard of God’s Law. I’m free from all that. But does that mean I’m free from any responsibility to conduct my life in accord to the will of God? No. That’s the mistake Jay Bakker and other liberal Christians think. Now when I use the word “liberal” I’m not talking about politics, as in the debate between conservative and liberal politics. Barak Obama is a liberal Democratic; George Bush is a conservative Republican. I’m not talking politics here, I’m talking about spiritual belief. In Christianity there is a liberal wing that doubts most of the Bible, disregards most traditional morality, and wants to update the faith to fit in with the modern culture. Then there is the conservative side of Christianity that holds to the Bible as God’s Word, takes serious traditional Christian morality and resists much of the secular, modern worldview found in popular culture. Our church would more or less be in this camp since we believe the Bible is God’s Word, we hold to traditional Christian morality, and we want to resist compromising to the modern, secular culture. Liberalism in Christianity teaches that God made gay people that way, so there’s no sin in same-sex relationships or marriage. That’s what Jay Bakker says in his book. But he also says, even if homosexuality were a sin, or adultery or anything, even if these were sins, we aren’t obligated to follow the rules against them because that’s Law and we are not under law but under grace. Paul answers that confusion by telling the Christians in the church of Galatia, “Don’t use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature.” In other words, “Yes, you are technically free from God’s Law in the sense that it can’t harm or damn your soul anymore since Christ took care of sin on the cross and the condemning Law can’t touch you, but even so, don’t use grace as an excuse to sin. Again, Paul says, “Don’t use your freedom to indulge in the sinful nature.” So in reading Galatians, and worse, in teaching Galatians, Pastor Jay Bakker missed that part. That’s a good example why Christians need to heed the warning, “Let not many of you be teachers, for we shall incur a stricter judgment,” James 3:1. Jay Bakker is teaching people to disregard God’s moral law as if there is no responsibility now to keep it; that is false. But let’s go on.

Second, the law equals “Love they neighbor as thyself.” Galatians 5:13-14, “ . . . Rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” This reminds us of the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels, especially where Jesus teaches the great commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and strength; and love your neighbor as you love yourself,” Matthew 22:37. Upon this the whole law consists. Now I want to stop here and unpack what Jesus and Paul are saying because it very profound, it’s very deep. So put on your thinking caps today and let’s think some very deep and profound thoughts this morning. Think about it. To summarize the entire law of God we only need to say, “Love God and love people.” That’s it. If you love God and love people you are fulfilling the entire law of God. The law is a spelling out what loving God and loving people means, but if you went about your life trying to love God and love people, you’d be fulfilling the law of God – not perfectly, of course, but to a high degree. When you commit sin, any sin, you are being either unloving to God or unloving to someone else, or both. Sin is an offense either against God or against somebody else. So, instead of seeing God’s law as a checklist of things to do, as a grocery list or checklist, approach your life with the point of view that you want to love God and love people. If you do that, you’ll be taking the right perspective on living. Of course, what does it mean to love God and love people? That’s where God’s Word, the revelation of God’s will, comes in handy, because the Bible helps show us what love for God and love for people looks like. It’s coming at obedience to God from a different angle. The Old Testament angle was to focus on the Law, through duty to obey the Law. The New Testament angle is to come at obedience to God through love, but the results are similar, it’s just the attitude and motivation are different. I can be holy by focusing on the Law and obeying it because it commands me to do it, or I can focus on being a loving person, with the motivation of love, and find that I will actually live a life of more holiness than if I focused on the Law. Of course, I’ll still fall short and fail and sin and disobey at times, from time to time, even under grace, even as a saved Christian, because after all I still battle the world, the flesh and the devil. I’m still called to resist temptation, resist sin, that’s why Paul says, “Don’t indulge the sinful nature.” We must fight the good fight of faith, which includes resisting sin. We are not free to give up trying, or throw up our hands and say like Jay Bakker, “Why worry, I’m under grace.” Part of loving, loving God and loving other people, is living our lives as God wills, following God’s will. Grace doesn’t excuse us from trying to live according to God’s will.

Third, if you don’t love, you’ll self-destruct. Galatians 5:15, “If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” There’s a reason why God reveals himself through laws, commands, instructions and teachings – in order to make life a blessing instead of a curse. When we fulfill God’s plan for our lives, things go better usually. When we love God and love people as we should, things usually go better for us. So just because we become saved and forgiven of all our sins and get out from underneath the Law with its condemning and punishment and damnation, that doesn’t mean we can just disregard God’s revealed will in the Bible and live any way we want. Why not? Because God’s commands aren’t just arbitrary rules handed down from on high with no rhyme or reason to them. God’s commands – at least his general moral laws as opposed to the specific Jewish ritual or ceremonial laws – are given to all people at all times in order to help them not hurt them in life. For example, God’s command against divorce isn’t a rule because God is mean and likes to make people jump when he snaps his fingers. It’s not given as a dictator would give an order simply to exercise his own power and authority, to impose his tyrannical will on people for his own ego’s sake. No. God’s command against divorce is to prevent people from screwing up their lives and messing up their lives, throwing themselves, their spouse and children into chaos that can last years and decades. Some people never fully recover from divorce. There are all these divorce recovery classes but it’s not as easy as taking a class and saying, “Well, I’m over my divorce, that’s that.” And just walk away as if nothing happened. No. God gives his good laws against divorce in certain circumstances because he loves us and doesn’t want us messed up, and doesn’t want families split apart, and doesn’t want kids messed up, and doesn’t want these same kids when they marry following the familiar pattern of divorce and the painful consequences in their lives. Our government has so-called no-fault divorce laws today, that’s supposed to be more humane and loving than those mean old Christian and church rules against divorce, but is it? Look at our society today and tell me that easy divorce has been a kind and loving thing no-fault divorce laws have produced. Just the opposite. So we see that God’s grace shouldn’t be used to live lives against God will because if we do that we’ll self-destruct. Next week we’ll get into the works of the flesh versus the fruit of the Spirit, but just to give you a heads up, if we use our freedom to follow the world, the flesh or the devil, we’ll destroy ourselves and others.

Being free to do something doesn’t mean we should do something. You may not go to hell for adultery, but that doesn’t mean you should do it. In fact, you shouldn’t do it, not because you’ll go to hell if you do. If you are saved by the blood of Jesus and you commit adultery you won’t go to hell, but so what? What difference does that make? It’s still a bad thing, even though it won’t put you in hell. So don’t use your freedom to do it. It’s the same with every kind of sin. If you are a Christian, if you’ve surrendered your life to God, yet you fall into sin, say you get drunk, get wasted, or whatever you call it. That’s bad, it’s wrong, the Bible teaches that it’s a sin. Will you go to hell now? No, of course not, you can’t get to heaven for staying sober – a lot of sober people don’t go to heaven, by the same token, getting drunk won’t send you to hell if you are a saved Christian. But what getting drunk will do is put you outside the will of God and probably mess you up in some way and maybe mess other people up too. So don’t do it. Don’t do it, not because if you do you’ll burn in hell forever, but it’s not the right thing to do. If you do get drunk in a moment of weakness, in a foolish, stupid instance where you gave into the flesh, gave in to temptation, then confess your sin to God, repent of it – which means to turn away from it as best you can  – and pick yourself up and follow God’s will from then on as best you can. Remember that you are saved by grace through faith alone, not by your holiness or obedience to the Law of God. Thank God for Jesus’ death on the cross for your sins, thank God for God’s grace, and move on. You’re still saved, you’re still going to heaven. Just be careful not to give into the temptations of the world, the flesh or the devil. But if you do slip up, if you do fall, quickly – that’s the key – quickly get back up, dust yourself off, praise God you are still saved, and move on with God. Don’t take the Jay Bakker attitude by saying, “Well, whether I give into temptation or not, whether I sin or not, it doesn’t matter.” It does matter. True, it doesn’t matter as far as the state of your saved soul is concerned – that’s already settled in heaven through the cross of Christ – but as far as living for God, loving God and loving other people, resist temptation because it’s the right thing to do, period. And anyway, do you honestly have to have the threat of hell hanging over your head to do the right thing? I hope not. Let’s pray.

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