Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Bethany Bullet - June 22, 2010

Thomas Edison knew something about work. As a prolific inventor and one of the foremost scientific minds America ever produced, he is known for some famous quotes:
  • “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.”
  • “There is no substitute for hard work.”
  • “Opportunity is missed by most because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

In many ways it is Thomas Edison who has instilled the modern American work ethic. And at times I think this has been to our detriment spiritually. Don’t get me wrong, hard work is a good thing, but when we rely on work for our salvation, we misunderstand scripture. It has been an easy transition for many to make the connection between our hard work in society and working to make ourselves right with God.

It is not just Americans who have struggled with this. This same problem threatened to split the church almost from its inception. The Galatians’ church was struggling with this same thing. Paul begins chapter two of Galatians explaining his relationship with the other apostles and establishing his authority in matters of faith.

There was a group connected with the early church who believed that all of the Old Testament Laws were still valid and were required of all who would follow Jesus as the Messiah. Rules and regulations began to supplant Christ and the cross.

Paul opposes Peter in this regard and this is the context of our text from Galatians chapter 2, “We who are Jews by birth and not 'Gentile sinners' 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.” (Galatians 2:15-16)

If there was anyone who could place confidence in the works of the Law it was Paul. Listen to his own words from his letter to the Philippians, “If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.” (Philippians 3:4b-6) But where did it get him? He was in the company of those whom Jesus opposed and said, 25"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.” (Matthew 23:25)

Attempting to follow the entire Law is an impossible task. It places salvation in the hands of sinful humans, not the strong hands of Jesus; in our work, not Christ’s. As long as we do all that is required, and do not fail in any particular way, we will be accepted by God and will be justified by “the works of the law.” In so doing we have forgotten the cross.

This has been the religion of humanity for centuries. It is the fundamental principle of every religious and moral system in the world today except Christianity. It is popular because it is flattering. It tells us that all we have to do is pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and try a little bit harder, we will succeed in doing anything, including obtaining our salvation.

But it is a fearful delusion and a dangerous misconception. It is the biggest lie of the biggest liar the world has ever known, the devil, whom Jesus called, “The Father of lies.” (John 8:44) Nobody has ever been justified by the works of the law, for the simple reason that nobody has ever perfectly kept the law. We may keep some of the law’s requirements outwardly, but no one except Jesus Christ has ever kept them all.

While it may make sense in our own minds that we must do some sort of work, this is not what the scriptures say. To be right with God, to be justified, is not something that we can do.

It was Martin Luther who said, “If the article of Justification is lost, all Christian doctrine is lost at the same time. This doctrine is the head and the cornerstone of the church. It alone forms, nourishes, builds, preserves and defends the church of God; and without it, the church of God cannot exist for one hour…This is the heel of the promised Seed that opposes the old serpent and crushes its head. That is why Satan, in turn, cannot but persecute it.”

We are made right with God not by our works, but by the work of Christ. It was 100% His perspiration as He carried our burdens to the cross. He is the substitute for our sinful works. It was an opportunity not missed because it was dressed in the flesh of humanity and raised to life for our salvation. Our works mean nothing.

This is the truth! Remember Paul’s words from Galatians chapter 1, “I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.” Paul is not making this stuff up.

There are three things I want you to remember from our time in Galatians 2 today:

  1. Justification is a pronouncement, not a process. It occurs outside of us and in spite of us. It is not found in our works. It was pronounced through pounding nails on Golgotha. It was pronounced as the stone was pushed aside. It continues to be pronounced in the pages of scripture and through pastors and people in places all over the planet.
  2. Justification comes through faith. Faith is the free gift of our heavenly Father. It helps us hold fast to the work of Christ. Faith is not a feeling but our foundation to understanding forgiveness. Faith holds on to Jesus, the Founder and Perfector of our faith.
  3. Good works are the effect, not the cause of Justification. Because we have been made right with God we find ourselves doing good works. I quote from Luther again, “Faith is a living, busy, active, mighty thing. It does not ask whether good works are to be done, but before the question is asked, it has already done them, and is constantly doing them.” We are engaged in good works - not for salvation and not even for ourselves but for others. No matter what your station in life, we find ourselves engaged in good works that point to Christ.

Perhaps, United States Congressman James D. Richardson, a contemporary of Edison had it right when he said, “If hard work were really a virtue, then mules would be saints.”

As we honor fathers, as we reflect upon all of their hard work, we must not forget the work of our heavenly Father and the sacrifice He gave in giving up His only Son so that we could be His forever. As we look at the work of our Heavenly Father, it should give us a thrill to watch what He has done in Christ and that because of His work, we are forgiven and will one day feel His warm embrace as He welcomes us to our heavenly home.

-Pastor Seth Moorman


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