Conversion Starts With Change From Within

Title: Conversion Starts With Change From Within

Text: Galatians 6:11-18

Time: June 5th, 2011

 

Believe it or not, this is our last message in our study of the Book of Galatians. The other day I was looking back over the last ten months of sermons and found that outside of a few weeks for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, we’ve been in Galatians for the whole time. What a great way to hear what God is saying to us as a church and to us as individuals. By staying close to the actual Bible passage week to week we hear the clear voice of God and avoid a lot of extraneous human opinion. I hope you’ve gotten excited over what we’ve learned these past months in the Book of Galatians. The Apostle Paul wrote this letter around 50 A.D., and it’s one of the earliest of the New Testament books. It basically explains salvation by faith alone, as opposed to salvation by works or a mixture of faith and works. If you get only one thing out of the Book of Galatians, get this – salvation comes to us only through faith alone. That’s very important because it seems that there is the human tendency to mix faith with works and call that salvation. Well it’s not! Good works follow from salvation, but are not a part of salvation itself. Once you are saved by faith alone you should begin to express that salvation in obedience to Christ and the commands of God, but we shouldn’t confuse faith and works as if they are the same thing, they aren’t. Paul spends most of his time defining and explaining the difference between the two. Today, Paul closes out his letter to the Galatians with a personal note – “See what large letters I use as I wrote to you with my own hand,” Galatians 6:11. Now it’s hard to know exactly what he means. Does it mean he’s written the whole letter himself instead of using a scribe, or does it mean he uses a scribe for most of the letter but then closes it using his own writing for the last few lines? We don’t know for sure, but there is evidence elsewhere that Paul might have suffered from some eye problem, some disease or sickness, that made seeing and thus writing difficult for him. If that’s the case, then he probably let the scribe take down his words while he dictated most of the letter, but then at the end he wrote the last paragraph with difficulty just to let the people know that this is an authentic letter and not just somebody writing on his behalf. He summarized his basic point throughout the letter – salvation comes through a transformation of the soul through faith alone, not by external obedience or religious ritual. I hope this is a message that we, here today, will never forget as we continue on in the Christian life. Right standing with God comes through faith in Christ alone, not by obedience to God’s law or Religious ritual. Let’s explore Paul’s final comments in detail.

 

First, Paul says to forget about avoiding persecution. Galatians 6:11-12, “See what large letters I use as I write you with my own hand! Those who want to make a good impression outwardly are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ.” Now this makes sense only within a Jewish context. A Gentile convert to Christianity would avoid persecution from Judaism, from the Jews, if he were circumcised. And you have to remember that Christianity started as a Jewish sect or denomination. All the early and original Christians were Jewish. Jesus, the Messiah and Lord, was Jewish. The first and original disciples or apostles were Jewish. Paul himself was Jewish. And so if new Christian converts wanted to fit in with all the other Christians there was pressure to be circumcised and obey all the Jewish laws. For many Jewish Christians, for a Gentile to convert to Christianity was really for the person to become a Messianic Jew – that is, a Jew who accepted and believed Jesus to be the Messiah. That was certainly the understanding and idea circulating around the capital city Jerusalem among the Christians, who were all Jews. We can naturally see why they would all just assume that everyone converting to Christianity would become Jewish as well, because that was the only thing these early Christians knew, and they never considered themselves leaving Judaism for Christianity, but rather adding Jesus to their Jewish faith. So you can see why there was so much confusion in the early church about this issue. You can see why it would have been easier for Gentile converts to simply follow the Jews and get circumcised and follow the Jewish laws as well – in order to please the majority of Christians living in and around Jerusalem. But the Apostle Paul made it a point to argue that even though it would be easier for his converts to Christianity to become Jewish it wouldn’t be right for them to do so, because Christianity wasn’t simply a branch of Judaism, but rather something new that God was doing for all people, Jews and Gentiles. In other words, Paul explains why the basic Jewish understanding of salvation is technically incorrect because it emphasizes obedience to the works of the Law first before faith. The actual order of salvation is faith in God, or more specifically, faith in Jesus, first, then works follow as a result. Circumcision and Jewish Laws confuse the issue and seemingly put works first and faith second in the order of salvation. So what Paul is doing is correcting a distortion within mainstream Judaism as well as promoting the new Christian faith. He doesn’t want new converts to Christianity entering into the old flawed and distorted Judaism. He wants the new gospel kept pure and not mixed with old, confused Jewish teachings. We too must keep the gospel free from any number of confused and distorted teachings concerning salvation. The biggest distortion we must guard against is the old Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox mixture of works and faith that gives the false impression that we must work obedience in order to be saved. That distortion is still around today and we need to reject it continually. It contradicts Paul’s teaching about salvation by faith alone.

 

Second, Paul says to forget about boasting in anything except the cross of Christ. Galatians 6:13-14, “Not even those who are circumcised obey the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your flesh. May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” Now you have to understand that there was a lot of Jewish pride going in and around Jerusalem and the whole Middle East at that time. The Jews had already been an ancient monotheistic religion for many centuries. The Old Testament – there was no complete New Testament at the time of the Book of Galatians – was an influential ancient holy book that has already touched many people and peoples of the world with its teachings. Moses was a known historic personality and hero for many citizens of the world, including many non-Jews. The Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament, were read and studied by millions of Jews and non-Jews alike. The Temple of Jerusalem, recently completed by King Herod, was one of the wonders of the ancient world. So there was a lot of Jewish pride floating around the Middle East at the time. Now there were Jews who basically saw Christianity as an extension of Judaism, even if they didn’t accept Jesus as Messiah or would never join the Christian church. Still, there were a lot of similarities between the Jewish faith and the newer Christian faith that Jews could hope that it might expand Jewish influence. And of course, Jewish Christians probably saw Christianity as really a new form of Judaism, although they were also aware of differences and points of tension between it and traditional Judaism. Still, they might hope that new Gentile converts would agree to become circumcised and begin to obey Jewish laws in order to show their Jewish brothers and sisters that Christianity and Judaism were essentially the same, at least not incompatible. So there probably was a lot of pressure from Jerusalem Jewish Christians to bring the new Gentile converts into the Jewish faith also in order to please their orthodox Jewish brothers and sisters from persecuting them as Christians. But into that kind of thinking the Apostle Paul comes and totally upsets the whole plan. Instead of thinking what would ease Christian-Jewish tensions, instead of trying to be diplomatic, Paul comes in with counter arguments against such a strategy of compromise. He says, no Jew really keeps God’s Law anyway, so why make such a big deal about the symbol of obedience, circumcision? Stop pretending that the sign of obedience, circumcision, makes you any more obedient, Paul says, it doesn’t. It’s hypocritical to make Gentiles undergo circumcision when even Jews who are circumcised benefit nothing by it as far as spiritual advancement. It’s a useless status symbol. Instead, forget about status or status symbols – and go the opposite direction, embrace the cross of Christ that will surely make you a total outcast from society! The cross of Christ is the only thing that can really save us spiritually from our sins, not circumcision. Embrace the cross of Christ, even if it is the opposite of a status symbol, because, after all, salvation is the goal, that is, the approval of God, not human approval on earth. We need to remember that point too, today. Are you willing to embrace the cross of Christ today even if it costs you a lot in this life? Would you rather have the approval of people and perish? In a way, everyone must make that decision. Are you content with respectable religion that saves nobody? Or are you willing to be rejected because you embrace the real Jesus for salvation? Think about it.

 

Third, Paul says the only thing that counts is the change God works in your heart, not externals. Galatians 6:15-18, “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation. Peace and mercy to all you follow this rule, even to the Israel of God. Finally, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.” The bottom line in respect to salvation in this – what saves us from our sins? Or what saves us from judgment? Or what saves us from eternal damnation? Isn’t that what’s really important? Now Paul has been explaining how the external obedience to God’s Law or external conformity to religious rituals can’t save the soul. So what can save the soul? There’s only one thing that can save the soul, and that’s God. God alone can cleanse a dirty, filthy, sinful, disobedient heart. And God has willed to do that through the cross of the Son Jesus Christ and by our faith in Christ. Now some of the Jewish law still applies to Christians, but not all of it. Some of the Jewish Old Testament practices still apply to New Testament Christian believers, but not all the old practices do still apply. For example, much of the Jewish moral principles, commands and laws still apply to Christians today. But other Jewish laws, commands and practices don’t. For example, we are not obligated to obey the Jewish Sabbath laws like the Jews were expected to do in ancient times. Why not? Because we are under a new covenant with God and we can choose to gather for church on any day of the week, the most popular being Sunday – which happens to be the day Christ rose from the dead, and it also happens to be the day after the Jewish Sabbath which is Saturday. But what Paul is saying is that what really matters is what pertains to salvation, and in respect to salvation, only one thing is needed, and that is faith alone in Christ alone. Now Paul isn’t saying that morality isn’t important, because we know from his other writings that he teaches Christian ethical and moral values, but what he’s saying is that morality doesn’t save us. Neither does any religious or spiritual practice save us. Church attendance doesn’t save us. Prayer doesn’t save us. Bible study doesn’t save us. Witnessing the gospel to friends, family, relative, neighbors or co-workers doesn’t save us. Now these are good things. These are things that should take place in the life of a Christian, and we can even go so far as say that if a person doesn’t do these things or doesn’t even want to do these things that it calls into question the person’s salvation. Because after all, what makes a person saved? Is it their claim they are saved that saves them? Is it there raising their hand or signing a decision card or going forward at an alter call? No. God and God alone saves someone. And he saves a person through true faith. But how do we know we have true faith? Partly because we do the things that a truly saved person naturally does – prays, reads the Bible, attends church, witnesses, for example. So while these things don’t save us, if we don’t see these in our life, we’d better start questioning our so-called salvation. Maybe we need to go back and get it right, that is, believe correctly on Jesus Christ. But these things don’t make us saved, they only testify to ourselves and others that we are saved.

 

Now what does all this mean for Christians today? I admit that it’s a pretty tough job trying to explain the gospel of salvation by faith alone today because people aren’t in the habit of thinking spiritually and theologically. It’s not that people can’t think this way today, it’s just that they aren’t used to thinking spiritually in a secular, materialistic world. People aren’t thinking about the spiritual world much today, because their heads are filled with pizza and television and shopping at the mall and talking on their cell phones or smartphones or they are surfing the Web or checking email. They are going here and there in their car, or listening to music on their ipod. They are enjoying all the many and different fun things to do in this modern, secular life. They may read occasionally but usually not the Bible, but rather some bestseller from amazon.com. They usually aren’t praying but instead listening to Oprah teach about meditating or listening to their inner child or some psychological approach to life. That’s why teaching and understanding Christianity is so hard today for most people. It’s strange compared with the distractions of the modern world. That’s why most people are confused about salvation. Here’s the basic idea most people think today – ‘If  I’m pretty good, stay out of bad trouble, live pretty close to the middle ground, I should be all set for heaven, if there is a heaven. I’m not a bad person, so God would never judge me or send me to hell, if there is a hell. So basically my plan is to not do anything really bad that might really get God mad, and because he’s a God of love, I’ll make it to heaven. Hell is for ax-murderers and Hitler. I should be ok.” But the whole message of the New Testament is that typical, ordinary people will face judgment and be condemned to hell for their sins if they don’t cling to the one and only one salvation – Jesus Christ. The bottom line for salvation is not how well we obey God’s Laws or follow the rituals of a particular church or religion. The bottom line is, does the blood of Jesus on the cross cover my sins, cleanse me of all fault in the eyes of God, and satisfy God’s righteous justice? If I embrace Jesus by faith, then I’m saved. If I try to find salvation in any other way, I’m lost. If I try to find salvation in church attendance, I’m lost. If I try to find salvation in prayer or Bible reading, I’m lost. If I try to find salvation in holy living or moral purity, I’m lost. If I try to find salvation in being a nice person or loving others or good deeds, I’m lost. It’s only if I find salvation through faith in Christ am I saved. Are you saved according to Paul’s teaching? If not, why not get saved today, right now. Pray this prayer with me.

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2 Responses to “Conversion Starts With Change From Within”

  1. Jewish salvation » Blog Archive » Paul and “New Testament” salvation vs Torah and “Old testament” salvation Says:

    […] I will prove below that the NT contradicts the Torah. I write this as a comment to a person named Jeff Short and does in this post show while NT-salvation contradicts what Torah teaches about forgiveness and […]

    • jeffshort Says:

      Please read Rabbi Paul’s argument in Galatians about God’s covenant of faith to Abraham BEFORE the Law of Moses. In Genesis it says, “And Abraham believed God and it was counted unto him as righteousness.” So if salvation comes through righteousness, here is Abraham righteous before the Law was given. How could he be counted righteous before the Law of Moses, before obedience to the Law? By faith alone in God. For the Christian, faith in Jesus, who is God come to earth in human form, this is salvation. But please read Rabbi Paul’s argument in Galatians, it explains all this. I read Hebrew as well, every day, and find it curious that most Jews fail to recognize that Abraham was given a covenant of faith before Moses was given a covenant of Law. Interesting?

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