If all Jesus Christ can do is tell me that I must be holy,
His teaching only causes me to despair.
This is how Christianity differs from other religions.
Other religions tell you to follow the steps,
walk through the pillars, keep the rules.
And the world does the same, singing to us:
Don’t worry, be happy.
Great advice, if we could do it, but we cannot.
We are drowning, and we need a rescue from on high.
Remember, we are, as Luther said, “caterpillars in a ring of fire.”
Our only hope of rescue is from above.
And so the book of Galatians begins, not with good advice, but with good news!
Luther says this verse sums up Galatians.
We know how it works to be rescued from the penalty of sin.
We agree with God that we are sinful,
and repent and receive His payment on our behalf.
But how does this rescue from the power of sin work?
That’s where we are headed.
I’ll begin with an illustration from my life, and then ask you for some of your own.
This will be our drumbeat these two months, for Galatians
was written to rescue us from a multitude of sins.
My Sin: Lack of Genuine Forgiveness from the Heart
When someone hurts me or someone I love, I know God tells me to forgive, but that is not my natural reaction. In “What’s So Amazing about Grace,” Philip Yancey says the reason grace is amazing is because it is not natural. What is natural is to want to hurt back or to withdraw. It is not natural to let it go and to love our “enemy.”
The opening of Galatians shows us that we are prone to believe lies, to “turn to a different gospel,” the spurious gospel that tells us we can save ourselves or help God to save us. One of the lies that I believe when I struggle to forgive, is that I want this person to be dealt with, and I don’t think God will do it the way it should be done. I also think I will feel better if I can justify myself, instead of trusting in Christ’s justification. When I believe these lies, this is my scenario.
I withdraw from that person and nurse my hurt, going over why he/she was wrong, and I was right. I justify myself internally and I imagine conversations with this person that will show him just how wrong he is.
Our own Diane from Canada wrote last week:
I can relate to Luther’s “Preface to Galatians” where he speaks of people seeking many ways to redeem themselves, defend themselves. The preface is worth several rereads and ponderings. We definitely spend a huge amount of energy justifying ourselves – both to ourselves internally and to others.
So, how can I let Christ rescue me? First, I must admit my need, just as I had to admit my need to be rescued from the penalty of sin. I need to cry out to God from my ring of fire. I know I should forgive but I cannot! Help me, O Lord!
I remember doing this when I was standing in front of my jewelry box, realizing Niki, who cleaned for me, had stolen the emerald jewelry my late husband has given me. I knew the rule: forgive. But I couldn’t do it, so I cried out from my ring of fire. Many of you know this story, and how God brought this scene from Les Miserables to my mind.
With this, God reached down and reminded me of the gospel. That helped melt my heart and I began to forgive Niki. Another woman she had stolen from pressed charges and she went to jail. I sent her a Bible and studies. But I didn’t go see her. I needed more help from above. That happened when I met with her when she got out of jail. I was overwhelmed by the Spirit who did in me what I could not do. I was able to forgive her from my heart, to ask her forgiveness for my hard and unforgiving heart, and lead her to the Lord. The peace and freedom that came was amazing.
I am gaining wisdom with this particular sin. I know that when I am hurt by someone, I must make a conscious decision to stop nursing my own hurt. I can do that by melting my heart with how much I have been forgiven, and reminding myself I have a God who will deal with that person. When I do this, freedom and joy comes. Often I must do it repeatedly, but He always helps me. It is, as Eugene Peterson put it, “a long obedience in the same direction.” And eventually, I really do feel free of the burden. I can truly try to be at peace with that person, have compassion instead of hatred, and in time, no matter their response, God does in me what I could not do. He causes me to “let it go!” He will do all things well in His time.
A Long Obedience in the Same Direction
In the book Educated, the author had to overcome a childhood of terrible abuse. After a mental breakdown she began therapy. She said, “There was not one session that I could look back on and say: “that session changed me,” However, the cumulative effective did heal me.” So often we want a quick change, but I encourage you to stay with this for our two months, for the cumulative effect will lead to freedom.
1. What stands out to you from the above and why?
2. None of us have arrived, but there may be an area where you have had a measure of success in overcoming a temptation. What lies are you overcoming? What truth are you speaking to your soul? How has God reached down to you?
Monday: Rescued from This Present Evil Age
3. Read Galatians 1:1-2 and explain Paul’s credentials and why we should listen carefully.
4. Meditate on Galatians 1:4 which Luther says sums up the whole letter.
A. What can Christ rescue us from and how did He do it?
B. Give one illustration of how the gospel could rescue someone from the power of sin?
C. Keller makes a point that he doesn’t say, “according to your merit or righteousness.” What does
he say and why is this significant?
Tuesday: A Different Gospel
False teachers had come to believers and told them that they needed to add to what Christ did to be saved — they were being told they also needed to be circumcised and to abstain from certain foods.
5. How do you see false teachers doing this today in regard to being rescued from the penalty of sin. They say you need Jesus plus _____________ to be saved (give an example.)
6. Now — let’s make this personal.
A. You are facing a trial, and you feel alone because you think you need Jesus plus your own merit. Speak to your soul.
B. You have been hurt. You feel the person that hurt you should suffer, and though you may not think it consciously, you are are going to help God deal with him by withdrawing or finding ways to drive the knife in. Speak to your soul.
C. Your life is stressful. To relieve the stress, you think you need Jesus plus (sugar, shopping, sexual immorality, gossiping to another…) How might you flee temptation and speak to your soul, melting your soul with the gospel?
7. Read Galatians 1:6-9
A. Describe Paul’s tone.
B. Why is this righteous indignation?
C. What do verses 8-9 say should happen to a person who preaches a different gospel?
In The Solid Rock, we sing:
8. Apply this to being saved from the power of sin.
A. Where do you tend to run, other than God, when you are stressed, bored, or depressed?
B. Now, in this situation practice melting your heart with the gospel.
Wednesday: Is Your Religion Manmade or from God?
9. What does Galatians 1:10 say? How could this help us stand firm on the gospel?
10. What does Galatians 1:11 say?
Last Thursday we had our first Bible study using SonShip, which is based on Galatians. We have unbelievers in our group. How I long for them to see that Christianity is not a manmade religion, as are all the others. I had prepared these questions if it came up — but it didn’t:
- Do you think it is possible that some religions are manmade and therefore prone to error?
- Do you think, if there is a God, that He might be capable of revealing Himself and His truth?
11. What question might you ask those who feel it is wrong to say there is only one way to God and that is is Jesus?
Thursday: Paul’s Testimony
12. Read Galatians 1:13-24 and outline Paul’s testimony.
13. What particularly stands out to you and why?
Friday: Oswald Chambers on “his Son in me.”
Print off and read, underline, and mediate on this one page essay from Chambers:
14. What heredity do we have as believers which makes obedience possible?
15. Why must we come to the end of ourselves to receive this power?
16. What stands out to you from this essay and why?
17. Share a time when you experienced this power at work within you.
18. What is your take-a-way and why?