By Faith Alone

Family First, 25 March 2018

Family First
D6 Series—
By Faith Alone
Galatians 6:1-10

Series Overview: The purpose of this series from the book of Galatians is to emphasize the vital role of faith in our lives.

Big Idea: Personal responsibility and mutual accountability are necessarily in following Jesus in community.


What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the word…church? For many, it’s a building. People often say they are “going to church.”

It is described in the Bible as a body. Like the human body, it is comprised of many different parts which ideally work together to form a healthy organism.

In the book of 2 Corinthians, it is described as an army, fighting not against people, but spiritual powers.

The church has been called the Bride of Christ.

The word “church” actually comes from the Greek word
ekklesia which means “assembly” or “called-out ones.” Today we’re going to look at another metaphor for the church: a family.

For some, family is a positive word, denoting love and safety. Others find the word somewhat troubling, stirring negative memories and emotions. Regardless, I think we would all agree families can be messy, at times, because they involve people and relationships, which can be complicated.

Today we’re looking at several important instructions from Paul to the Galatian church, the family of believers in the city of Galatia in modern day Turkey. While they were written two thousand years ago, there are timeless truths we must learn and apply.

Today’s passage has what appears to be four random thoughts:

- Bearing burdens
- Sharing with one’s teacher
- Sowing and reaping
- Doing good

Furthermore, we’ll see an interplay between personal responsibility and mutual accountability, both necessary in family life.

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. (Galatians 6:1)

We could spend the whole morning on this verse. First, we see Paul’s family reference, using sibling language. Obviously, we all sin. Some sins are very visible and even public, such as sex-trafficking pastors. Others may be completely unknown except to God, such as greed. Actually, many of my sins are not even things I do, but things I fail to do, such as caring for the poor or spending quality time in prayer. The word “caught” indicates a known indiscretion. We are all susceptible to sins which impact not only ourselves but others in the family. There’s great hope for the fallen as it says they are to be restored gently…by those who live by the Spirit.

Many years ago, there were two televangelists who were caught in sexual sin. They were both pastors in the same denomination and were asked to go through a process of restoration. One refused and promptly returned to the airwaves to protect his $140 million-a-year ministry. The other submitted, spent time in prison, and wrote a book entitled, “I Was Wrong.” Needless to say, I was disappointed in the first and was glad to see the second man restored.

We all sin and fall short of God’s glory, but through Jesus all of our sins can be forgiven, washed white as snow. And although the process can be messy and time-consuming, restoration and redemption are possible. Hallelujah!

But note the second sentence. This seems to refer to the age-old sin of pride. Tragically, it has been said the church is the only army which shoots its wounded. I’ve heard so many stories of people sinning, repenting, seeking restoration, yet receiving the condemnation of other so-called Christians. I confess I find it so easy to fall into pride and self-righteousness when I see others sin, which is what Paul is warning against. The religious were quick to pridefully demonstrate their own goodness in the midst of restoring the sinful. When I hear of moral failure, I must remember, “But by the grace of God so go I.” We are to help fallen soldiers, not give them further blows.

In the past, there was a literal seat in which some missionaries to Kenya sat those who had sinned. While the practice may have had good intentions, it sent the wrong impression to those sitting on the ordinary seats. Were they any less sinful? Not in God’s eyes. Furthermore, no missionary ever sat in the sinner’s seat, perhaps indicating a lack of humility. Love the sinner, hate your own sin.

It is worth noting Matthew 18 here, too. Jesus taught

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector. (Matthew 18:15-17)

In other words, no gossip. Period. Don’t tell me—or anyone else—about someone else’s sins unless you’ve first gone to them in humility and found no resolution.

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2)

I love this verse! The law of Christ is the law of love. Our law is following Jesus and submitting to the Spirit. If we connect it to verse one, the restorer not only addresses sin, they help the person avoid it in the future…mutual accountability. I need you and you need me. You may need to restore me today and tomorrow I return the favor. We are mutually sinners and saints. Burdens here may refer to sin, but the word burden literally means a stone or heavy weight carried for a long distance. It could refer to financial burdens, the pain of divorce, cancer, or any hardship.

This is a challenge for us in our individualistic culture. People are often unwilling to ask for help due to pride. Others are often unwilling to help due to their own selfishness or busyness. When we carry each other’s burdens, when we love and serve one another, when we restore one another when we have fallen, we are submitting to the Spirit and following Jesus’ teachings and example. As we will see, this mutual accountability does not mean we do everything for them, but when help is needed, it is communicated and provided.

If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. (Galatians 6:3)

Don’t you love the English translation? Don’t think you are something when you’re not! That’s pride again. Every good and perfect gift is from above, and we’ve been blessed with some tremendous gifts, including freedom, wealth, health, and most of all salvation. Apart from God’s grace, we are nothing but dust. To God be the glory!

Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load. (Galatians 6:4-5)

We are to take personal responsibility for our actions. We are to carry our own load. The Greek word, phortion, referred to a soldier’s pack. Paul sees the Galatians as soldiers of Jesus, following Christ rather than taking pride in achievements through competition or comparison.

Comparison is deadly. God gives us all different gifts and callings. You might have been given ten talents while someone else is given one or two. You may have been blessed with a stellar education while another person never finished elementary school. Maybe you can sing like an angel while someone else can only make a joyful noise!

One day every person is going to stand before Almighty God and give an account for how they lived, what they did with their talents, how they loved their neighbor. Judgment Day is coming for all of us. Imagine standing before God and giving an account of what you did in this life, how you used your time, your education, your freedom, your money. It sounds downright frightening to me because although some may consider me to be a good person, good isn’t good enough for a holy God. One strike—one sin—and you’re out…except for those who have repented and believed in Jesus Christ.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

Jesus died so we can live. He paid the price for our sins. His death and resurrection grant us mercy, the ability to escape punishment. Followers of Jesus on Judgment Day (Rom. 2:6-16; 14:12; 1 Cor. 3:8; 4:1-5; 2 Cor. 5:10) can point to Jesus and say, “He paid the price. He let me off the hook. I deserve death, but I claim mercy because of Christ.” That’s what Paul’s been saying throughout this book of Galatians, it’s about faith, not works. It’s about have a relationship with King Jesus, not religion.

But we must be personally responsible for our lives, our attitudes, our actions. Remember, we are saved by faith, but works naturally flow out of a Spirit-filled believer who has repented and surrendered to Jesus Christ, and we will all be judged by God. He is both holy and loving, just and gracious. We will stand before God someday, and live before God today. On Judgment Day, each of us is responsible for our own load, our pack, our life.

Nevertheless, the one who receives instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructor. (Galatians 6:6)

This is one of a pastor’s favorite verses! Most believe this is referencing financial compensation, a perfect opportunity for me to say thank you again for the pleasure of being your pastor, of serving you, of preaching, of discipling our current and future leaders. It is not always easy or fun, but it is a joy to serve you, family.

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. (Galatians 6:7)

God cannot be mocked. He will judge disobedience…and reward righteousness.

Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. (Galatians 6:8)

I think that’s pretty clear. But like gardening, the harvest in our lives is rarely instantaneous. It takes time…and perseverance.

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:9)

The Galatians were losing their passion, perhaps overwhelmed by the legalism and religion that caused them to focus on themselves rather than on concern for others and worship of God. Brothers and sisters, don’t give up!

Some of you have been praying for decades for your prodigal sons and daughters. Don’t give up!

Others of you have been engaging in spiritual conversations with family and friends for years without a breakthrough. Don’t give up!

Some of you have been battling pain and sickness for as long as you can remember, yet you continue to volunteer and serve others. Don’t give up!

Perhaps God has been telling you to disciple people who are not growing in their faith as quickly as you desire. Don’t give up!

To all of you who invest in our children and youth—and surely grow weary—don’t give up!

Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. (Galatians 6:10)

To understand the context, doing good here may mean giving to the Jerusalem famine relief fund project which Paul was overseeing. Nevertheless, these words have deep meaning to us today. We are to do good to all people, regardless of who they may be. Goodness is part of the fruit of the Spirit.

But he concludes by emphasizing the church. We are commanded to love our neighbor, but family first. The early church depended upon one another. They were communal. They did life together. In fact, Acts 2 tells us

All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, (Acts 2:44-46)

This is difficult in our commuter culture where we need cars to visit one another. Our family has people from 34 zip codes! Nevertheless, I love hearing stories about small groups banding together to serve someone in their group who is struggling. I’m delighted to see meals delivered to church members in crisis. It thrills me to hear of people working together to repair a home or shut ins visited from within our family. One of my favorite things about First Alliance Church is the second offering we take on the second Sunday of the month to give to our benevolence fund. Countless family members have been financially blessed by our church generously doing good to one another. I must add one of the best ways to do good is to pray. We have some incredible prayer warriors in our family and I can’t imagine where we’d be without them. Thank you!

So What?

Our responsibility to hold each other accountable and to bear one another’s burdens demonstrates how God established the church to make disciples and transfer the faith. (D6)

There’s an abundance of applications to this text, many of which have been stated. I want to conclude by talking specifically about our family, First Alliance Church. We’re not a perfect family. We sin and need restoration. We offend one another—hopefully unintentionally—and need reconciliation. We are commanded to love, to serve, to help, to be generous. We are to resist the temptations of pride and gossip. When concerns arise, we are to believe the best, ask for clarification, and seek understanding.

While we’re talking about family, personal responsibility, and mutual accountability, I want to apologize for poor communication, specifically with regard to Claro and TUI. I want to provide you with brief updates.

First, Claro Coffee Bar. We launched Claro as a way to love and serve our UpTown neighborhood, extending hospitality, facilitating conversations, and creating a bridge between the churched and unchurched in our community. We have seen people join our church family as a result of Claro. Countless lives have been impacted not only by fantastic drinks and edibles, but through spiritual conversations on both sides of the bar. Just this week one of our church leaders said, “I’m so grateful for Claro” before sharing a moving story that led him to tears.

Although there remain some in the area who have chosen to boycott the only coffee shop in UpTown because it is a part of our church, most of our neighbors greatly appreciate us and our investment in the neighborhood. We have created jobs. We developed an abandoned storefront. Many say we serve the best coffee in Toledo (I don’t drink coffee, but I’ll take their word for it!). Our reputation in the community has been enhanced through Claro, developing trust. Last month the UpTown Association thanked First Alliance Church at their annual meeting for being one of the valued pillars of UpTown.

Claro is developing a loyal following among Toledoans, but it continues to struggle financially. Andrew admirably stepped up in January to manage Claro and try to reduce the losses. The Claro Business Team and Elders have had numerous discussions about how to maximize ministry and profitability. We are exploring a variety of options and need your prayers—and patronage—as we seek God’s will. We believe God led us to launch Claro, He provided a miracle last fall when we almost had no choice but to close, and we believe He will guide us in the coming days.

Garth: Toledo Urban Impact update

Why would a church open a coffee shop? Why is TUI involved in a theater company? The family needs to grow. All families need to grow. Without babies, families die—literally.

Family, I love you. Please let me know how I can serve you. Family first. But we also need to welcome new members into the family. Praise God the last two years we
have baptized new believers, but I long to see the 500k souls in our community reached. Most are not coming, so we are commanded to go and make disciples, whether it is at Claro, a backyard BBQ, listening to a co-worker in need, attending a neighbor’s party, volunteering at Rosa Parks or the After School Klub.

Pastor Soper, in the Mission 119 audio devotional and app, said the key verse in the book of Luke is

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10)

We are never to use pressure or guilt or treat people like projects, but if Jesus is good news to you, it should be natural to want others to experience the abundant life He offers. We are not selling religion, we are inviting people into a relationship with the Creator which gives meaning, purpose, hope, joy, and love.

Closing thoughts

Credits: Some ideas from D6, Hippo/Africa Bible Commentary Series, The NIV Application Commentary.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Rags to Riches, 18 March 2018

    Rags to Riches
    D6 Series— By Faith Alone
    Galatians 4:1-31

    Series Overview:
    The purpose of this series from the book of Galatians is to emphasize the vital role of faith in our lives.

    Big Idea: Followers of Jesus are God’s children and heirs…and need to live like it!

    Rags to riches. It might be the ultimate story, whether it be Little Orphan Annie, Cinderella, Rocky, or even historical figures such as Genghis Khan, Andrew Carnegie, Ben Carson, LeBron James or Oprah Winfrey, we love to hear of people whose lives have experienced transformation.

    Often, people achieve greatness by their own efforts. Others are advantaged by their family of origin, whether by birth or adoption. Such is our subject today in Galatians chapter four.

    I’ve often said I believe the two most important questions in life are

    - Who is God?
    - Who am I?

    How you answer those questions will literally change your life. As we study the Bible, we obviously learn about God. We can’t know everything about God because…well, if we did, we’d be God! God is beyond our complete comprehension, but we can know enough about Him to love and worship and have a relationship with Him.

    Today we’re going to learn about God, but our focus will be on the second question: Who am I? Or perhaps we should say, “Whose am I?”

    Welcome to week three of D6, our church-wide study of the Bible. This month we are studying the book of Galatians, a letter written to churches in the city of Galatia in modern-day Turkey by Paul, one of the leaders of the early church. These people began following Jesus, but religious people deceived them into believing works were necessary to earn God’s favor. Friends, the cross is enough. Jesus is enough. We are saved by grace through faith. Hallelujah! The book of Galatians is filled with the simple message that Jesus is greater than religion. All of our good works can’t begin to compare to the work of Jesus on the cross. It’s all about Jesus.

    Just a reminder that you can text questions…Last week I received
    a question we will answer today: Are we sons of God because of creation or Christ?

    As we turn to chapter four of Galatians, Paul reminds the people of Galatia of their identity.

    What I am saying is that as long as an heir is underage, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. The heir is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world. But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. (Galatians 4:1-5)

    Paul is saying minors cannot receive an inheritance. They might as well be slaves, much like the Jews under the old covenant. Before Jesus, people were enslaved. Jews were enslaved to the Mosaic Law. Gentiles were enslaved by pagan religions. Today many Christians are enslaved by legalism, rituals, good works, and moral achievement. Rather than bondage, at just the right time, Jesus came to redeem us, to adopt us.

    These words are truly remarkable. Many of us have heard them so many times, the wonder of them has worn off, but I urge you to reflect with me.

    The Creator of the universe sends Jesus to our planet who dies and resurrects for us. He ascends into heaven and sends the Holy Spirit to every believer, giving us the power to become like Jesus. That’s what “Christian” means—little Christ. Paul tells us we are God’s children. Who’s your Daddy? God!

    We’ve all heard stories of children famous not because of what they’ve done, but rather their parents. The children of Jay-Z and Beyonce have been on magazine covers. Every addition to the royal family in Britain is global news. Can you imagine having a last name like Gates or Vanderbilt or Rockefeller…or Trump? Your family matters. Parents provide opportunities for their children—or not!

    Now imagine what it’s like to be in God’s family! Don’t miss the last word of this text—heir. We are not only children, we have an inheritance…greater than anything Jeff Bezos or Warren Buffet could leave.

    Who are you? What is the source of your identity? Your occupation? Education? Race? Social status? Member of an elite club? Political party?

    If you are a follower of Jesus, you are a child of God. That must come before any other descriptor. Before American. Before evangelical. Before doctor or Toledo Rocket or even husband or mother. You are no longer a slave to sin and this world but are now a child of the most high God.

    Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba , Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir. (Galatians 4:6-7)

    Note the Aramaic word “Abba.” In Jesus’ day, nobody would’ve addressed God as “My Father.” It would have been considered disrespectful, yet Jesus not only did it, he taught his followers to do so. He taught us to pray, “Our Father.” God was considered the Father of the nation of Israel, but never considered as father to an individual. The religious in Jesus’ day were widening the distance between man and God, something Jesus reversed. In all of Jesus’ prayers except for on the cross, Jesus uses the word “Father,” and “Abba” is the term a small child would call their father, not unlike our word for “daddy.”

    Do you think of God as daddy? I do. I sometimes use the word “daddy” when I pray. Sometimes it seems weird when I’m praying out loud in a group, but I still love it when my adult kids call me daddy and, therefore, it is a meaningful, intimate word I use for God.

    Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you. (Galatians 4:8-11)

    Paul’s so frustrated! He taught them the truth, and now they’re backsliding, believing lies about religion rather than seeking a deeper relationship with God. They know about God, but they don’t know God. Like so many throughout history, they worshiped the creature rather than the Creator. Paul feared they would return to false gods, following religion, or returning to paganism. Note as Christians we are not required to follow the Jewish calendar of festivals. The observances are not bad. In fact, they can be quite meaningful, but they are not celebrated to gain favor with God.

    I plead with you, brothers and sisters, become like me, for I became like you. You did me no wrong. As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you, and even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself. (Galatians 4:12-14)

    We don’t know much about Paul’s illness. It may have been eye trouble epilepsy, or even Malaria! Regardless, he reminds them of their time together and his delivery of the gospel, good news. Now they’ve changed their attitude, instead following the religious Judaizers.

    Where, then, is your blessing of me now? I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me. Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth? (Galatians 4:15-16)

    Can you feel the tension? The angst? Paul can’t believe how these people have changed.

    Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may have zeal for them. It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always, not just when I am with you. My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you! (Galatians 4:17-20)

    He’s in a battle for the truth. Spiritual warfare is real and it is not always Christianity against Satanism. It can be religion and legalism versus grace and freedom. Again, grace and freedom do not give us license to sin. They merely remind us of our salvation, not from our works but the work of Jesus. The more we understand the work of Jesus, the more we will love God and want to obey, serve, and glory Him.

    And now he contrasts Abraham’s two sons as an allegory for slavery and freedom.

    Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. His son by the slave woman was born according to the flesh, but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a divine promise. (Galatians 4:21-23)

    Abraham had a son through his wife Sarai’s slave, Hagar. His name was Ishmael. Later, Sarai miraculously became pregnant and gave birth to Isaac. Needless to say, the family tree and family life were complicated!

    These things are being taken figuratively: The women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. (Galatians 4:24-26)

    For it is written:

    “Be glad, barren woman,
    you who never bore a child;
    shout for joy and cry aloud,
    you who were never in labor;
    because more are the children of the desolate woman
    than of her who has a husband.” (Galatians 4:27)

    Genesis 16, 17, and 21 tell us more about Ishmael and Isaac. The Galatians have become God’s children by God’s work, not theirs, just as Isaac become Abraham’s son by God’s miraculous work.

    Now you, brothers and sisters, like Isaac, are children of promise. At that time the son born according to the flesh persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now. But what does Scripture say? “Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.” Therefore, brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman. (Galatians 4:28-31)

    Ishmael persecuted Isaac. Jews persecuted Christians.

    So What?

    First, know who you are. Know Whose you are. If you are a follower of Jesus, you are an heir of God. You have been adopted into God’s family. You are loved, cherished, and special, not because of anything you’ve done, but just because of who you are.

    I often say I learned more about God the day our first child was born than any other day of my life. Parents, whether your child arrived naturally or via adoption, there’s a special bond, a unique love, a powerful commitment a mom or dad has with their son or daughter.

    If I could have one with for you, church, I think it
    would be that you could understand just how loved you are. Paul would write to the church in Ephesus:

    And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:17b-19)

    I’ve met so many insecure Christians. Their insecurity is expressed in a variety of ways. Some are legalistic and judgmental, quick to point out the flaws of others while being unaware of the pride and self-righteousness in their hearts. Others strive for the approval of others instead of being secure in the love of their Heavenly Father. Still others take themselves so seriously that they’re easily offended. If we could be secure in God’s love for us—remember, nothing you can do can make God love you more and nothing you can do can make God love you less—I believe our lives would be so much more attractive to our broken, fear-filled, hope-starved world.

    This past week I found myself in three different meetings regarding children. One discussed the problem of infant mortality, another the horror of abortion, and the third foster care and adoption. We live in a culture of death. We are entertained by violence in movies, television, and video games. Is it any wonder it appears for real in our streets and homes? Life is precious. All life. In the womb. Young. Old. Black and white. Christian, atheist, and Muslim. Gay, straight, abortion doctors, politicians, the homeless, the incarcerated, teachers, …even pastors. Ronald Reagan once said, “God’s greatest gift is human life.” God is pro-life. Are you? Prove it!

    Being pro-life is
    far more than voting for a few people once every four years. It means caring for the least of these, treating everyone with love and respect, and protecting the unborn and the elderly and everyone in between. And it might involve getting really messy, ensuring others in our community are able to experience the abundant life Jesus promised by letting them know they are loved by God, helping them receive education, protecting them from abuse, making sure they have food and shelter, and ensuring opportunities for jobs and freedoms. By being adopted into God’s family, we’ve become heirs, given unimaginable opportunities. We can respond today by loving others as we’ve been loved by God.

    Perhaps the most radical thing you can do in response to God’s love and His adopting you into His f
    amily is to consider becoming an adoptive or foster parent, beginning with free classes from Lucas County. Last Sunday’s Blade reported the dire need for families to foster and adopt. There are more than 140 more children needing foster care now than a year ago, mostly due to the opioid epidemic which is ravaging families not only in our city but especially in the suburbs.

    If you can’t foster or adopt, find someone who is and help them. Is there any greater gift you can give than your home, heart, and
    love. We’ve been adopted into God’s family, not because we deserved it or earned it or were good people, but just because.

    Are we sons of God because of creation or Christ? We were all created by God, but we become sons and daughters through Jesus who allows us to be reconciled to our Father and join His family despite
    our sins and failures. From slaves to sons, from rags to riches. That is truly good news!

    Credits: some ideas from: D6

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • It's Always Been Faith, 11 March 2018

    It’s Always Been Faith
    D6 Series—
    By Faith Alone
    Galatians 3:1-29

    Series Overview: The purpose of this series from the book of Galatians is to emphasize the vital role of faith in our lives.

    Big Idea: Justification has always been through faith, even in the Old Testament.


    Last week we began our four-week study of the book of Galatians. Obviously four sermons can’t begin to contain all of the riches contained within this letter from Paul to some of the early churches in what is now Turkey, which is why many of our small groups and Sunday School classes are using the D6 curriculum with content synchronized not only with many of my sermons but also our children and youth studies.

    Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1)

    Here’s the summary from last week: we are saved by faith in Jesus, not works.

    Faith + nothing = salvation

    Religion is the human quest to be good enough for a perfect, holy God. It always fails. Always. Whether it’s the Koran or the Old Testament Mosaic Law or even Christian traditions, none of us is perfect and, therefore, can never achieve what God requires—complete purity.

    That’s why God the Father sent Jesus to live a perfect life, die for sinners like us, and rise from the dead, proving the sacrifice was sufficient.

    Religion says it’s about what you do.
    Jesus says it’s about what he has done.

    Religion says if you behave like us and believe like us, then you can belong.
    Jesus says you belong, believe, and then behave.

    This past week someone told me it’s easier to live in legalism than to live in freedom. It requires no faith to follow the rules. Just obey the checklist.

    Following Jesus is radically different. Freedom through Jesus means we’re not bound by rules, but rather we are granted a relationship with God and two commands which flow from knowing Christ:

    Love God
    Love Others

    We are never to violate the teachings of the Bible, instruction meant to give life. But because our faith is based on Jesus’ work on the cross, not our good works, the pressure’s off. We were created to know and enjoy God and others. Life is all about relationships, and knowing Jesus is the most essential, life-giving, transformational relationship of all. Do you know him?

    Paul, the writer of Galatians, was a Jewish leader who persecuted Christians prior to his life-changing encounter with Jesus. Many of the first Christians were trying to determine the role of the law of Moses, the Mosaic Law of 613 commands. Can a Christian eat pork? Do they have to be circumcised? What about the Sabbath? Are the standards different from Gentile and Jewish followers of Yeshua—Jesus? Religion was getting in the way of knowing and following Christ.

    There’s one unfortunate thing about written communication: the lack of non-verbals. Bible translators work tirelessly to convert the original Greek of the New Testament to English. Note the intensity of Paul’s words and his rhetorical questions.

    You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? (Galatians 3:1-3)

    These Christians have been deceived by the Judaizers, believing circumcision and other works are necessary to know and follow Jesus. They’ve moved from freedom to legalism. Paul preached that Jesus was enough. His death on the cross offers a free and complete salvation for those who put their faith and trust in him.

    Paul’s going to mention the Holy Spirit 16 times in this short book. His point here is both salvation—our justification—and sanctification—maturity to become like Jesus—are the work of the Holy Spirit. It’s a God thing!

    I would love to camp out here and discuss the Holy Spirit at length as I have done in past sermons. When you get Jesus, you get the Holy Spirit. It’s a two-for-one deal. Actually, it’s a three-for-one deal because when you surrender control of your life to Jesus and put your faith in him, he reconciles you to your heavenly Father and gives you the Holy Spirit to live inside of you, giving you the power to gradually become like Jesus.

    Last Sunday I said religion says


    The crazy thing is even if someone wanted to behave, if they don’t believe and have the power of the Holy Spirit, they
    can’t behave!

    The message of the gospel is reversed:


    Jesus loves us and invites us into a relationship with him, to belong to his family. As we welcome people into life-giving community at First Alliance Church, many will inevitably believe simply because they see something different, something attractive about us—the Holy Spirit overflowing in us with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control. Don’t you want to be around people like that? Are we people like that?

    The Galatians began their spiritual journey relying on the Holy Spirit, but now they’re getting hung up on legalism, works, and their own power. As one writer notes, “As far as Paul is concerned, the Christian life starts, continues and ends in dependence on the Holy Spirit.”

    Friends, ministry is a fascinating partnership between us and God. We can’t change people. We can’t make anyone trust Jesus. We can’t make anyone “behave” a certain way. We can influence others, but you cannot control another person. It’s difficult controlling one’s self! In fact, someone once said the only thing in the world you can control is your attitude. But I digress.

    is sovereign and in control. As I mentioned last week:

    “It is the Holy Spirit's job to convict, God's job to judge and my job to love.” ― Billy Graham

    God does the work, but He amazingly invites us to be a part of the process, to proclaim good news, to set an example of righteousness for others to follow, to love others. But the people in Galatia were still hung up on the 613 commands of the Mosaic Law.

    Have you experienced so much in vain—if it really was in vain? So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard? So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
    (Galatians 3:4-6)

    They’ve seen the Holy Spirit do miracles. Lives have been transformed, including Paul’s. Healings have occurred. The early church was a pretty dynamic community, as should ours!

    Paul’s point is everything flows from faith, from Jesus, from the Holy Spirit. Even Abraham—the first Jew, the first to be circumcised—was made righteous not by his works but his faith in God. He did good works, too, but they flowed from his faith, not the other way around. Abraham was justified by faith. Paul quotes Genesis 15:6 which says

    Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

    Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.”
    So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. (Galatians 3:7-9)

    Now Paul quotes Genesis 12:3, but replaces “peoples” with “nations” because “nations” meant everyone who was not a Jew. Jews and Gentiles are called children of Abraham here. This is amazing. The Jews were God’s chosen people, but Jesus allows Gentiles into the family.

    For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.”
    Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by faith.” The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, “The person who does these things will live by them.” (Galatians 3:10-12)

    Paul quotes Habakkuk 2:4

    “See, the enemy is puffed up; his desires are not upright—but the righteous person will live by his faithfulness — (Habakkuk 2:4)

    If you rely on the law for your justification and salvation, you must be perfect. Faith is the path to righteousness. Christ has already dealt with our sin, Hallelujah!

    Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.”
    He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. (Galatians 3:13-14)

    It’s your choice, friends—religion or faith. Works or grace. The law or the cross. Jesus became a curse for us. He was our substitute. And even Gentiles can receive salvation…and the Holy Spirit, too! The book of Hebrews tells us

    And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)

    Are you getting Paul’s point?!

    Brothers and sisters, let me take an example from everyday life. Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case. The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,”
    meaning one person, who is Christ. (Galatians 3:15-16)

    Christ is greater than Moses. Christ is greater than Abraham. Christ is God!

    What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on the promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise. (Galatians 3:17-18)

    Why, then, was the law given at all? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. The law was given through angels and entrusted to a mediator. A mediator, however, implies more than one party; but God is one. (Galatians 3:19-20)

    The law exposes sin. It makes us aware of our failures and need for God, for forgiveness, for a Savior. The law is associated with sin, not salvation and justification.
    Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. But Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe. (Galatians 3:21-22)

    One writer notes:

    All that the law could do was expose sin, it could not remove it. In fact, it locked up everything under the control of sin (3:22a). It was like a doctor telling a patient, “You are sick, and I know what is wrong with you, but I don’t have any medicine that can cure you.” The medicine that was needed was the coming of Christ.

    Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian. (Galatians 3:23-25)

    Faith in Christ shows we are becoming mature. We love God and obey God because he first loved us. Our good works are response to God’s grace and our surrender to the Holy Spirit.
    So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:26-29)

    Friends, we are invited to become children of God, adopted into his family, born again. It doesn’t matter your age, race, language, education, or social status. These things divided people in Paul’s day much like they do today. When we put on Christ, when we wear his uniform, so to speak, we are on his team, we are related by blood…his blood. Anything that divides believers into two groups is not of God. We are one, and we are all heirs of Christ.

    That is truly good news!

    So What?

    If you’ve never surrendered your life to Jesus, been filled with the Holy Spirit, experienced freedom and forgiveness, been born again, adopted into God’s family, it’s as simple as accepting Jesus’ invitation, his gift, trusting him.

    If you have trusted Jesus, is he truly LORD of your life? Are you daily asking the Holy Spirit to fill you and transform you to be more like Jesus, loving God and loving others? Those are the simple signs of spiritual maturity, not church attendance or Bible memorization or tithing ten percent of your income, though those are good things. Our works and sanctification flow from our faith and justification, not the other way around.

    Today we celebrate the freedom that comes from faith rather than religion. Paul wrote to the church in Rome

    Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:1-2)

    Credits: some ideas from: D6, Galatians (Hippo/Africa Bible Commentary Series)

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • One Way, 4 March 2018

    One Way
    D6 Series—
    By Faith Alone
    Galatians 1:1-12; 2:15-21

    Series Overview: The purpose of this series from the book of Galatians is to emphasize the vital role of faith in our lives.

    Big Idea: Despite claims to the contrary, Jesus is the only way to God, not works or religion.


    Today we begin not only a new series but a new church-wide curriculum designed to take us strategically through the entire Bible over the next six years. D6 is based upon the Deuteronomy 6 command to teach God’s Word to one’s children:

    Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)

    At First Alliance, we believe the Bible is God’s timeless Word, our source of authority, and a living, breathing document guiding us to know and love God and others. We want to know and follow God’s commandments, teaching them to future generations. The free
    Mission 119 app, Right Now Media, our Sunday gatherings, our small groups, and our children’s and student ministries are all grounded on the Holy Bible.

    D6 is synchronizing the subject of our sermons with our children, youth, and many of our small groups. Parents, we’re going to explore the same scriptures your kids are studying today, and if you’re in one of our midweek small groups using D6, don’t sleep during my sermon! I’m going to feed you God’s Word and your group will be a great place to digest it, so to speak, interacting with the text and letting the Bible transform you from the inside out to become more like Jesus, our example for what it means to be human.

    This month we’ll look at the New Testament book of Galatians. In April, we will examine several of the Old Testament Psalms. May will include a study of various attributes of God. Our series on Galatians is entitled, “By Faith Alone.” Before we look at today’s text, it’s important for us to understand what we’re reading. Context is vital when reading the Bible—or anything, for that matter.

    Paul is a brilliantly educated man who was so committed to Judaism, he was a part of the execution of Christians…until Jesus miraculously introduced Himself to the man then known as Saul. Because God has a sense of humor, this Christian-hater became one of the most devoted and influential Christ-followers in history, writing many books of the Bible including this epistle or letter to a group of churches in a region called Galatia around AD 50, most likely when Nero is Emperor of Rome.

    The Christian faith was relatively young. Jesus had arrived, died, resurrected, and ascended into heaven and the early church was trying to figure out what it meant for both Jews and Gentiles to follow Jesus. Many false teachers were polluting Jesus’ message. Some things never change! Paul begins

    Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead—and all the brothers and sisters with me,

    To the churches in Galatia: (Galatians 1:1-2)

    Paul begins by defending his authority as an apostle, a term that in Greek means “one who is sent.” He had seen Jesus and experienced a remarkable transformation as a result. His authority comes from Jesus and God the Father who raised Christ from the dead.

    Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (Galatians 1:3-5)

    Jesus gave himself for our sins. He died for you and me. Hallelujah!

    I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse! (Galatians 1:6-9)

    We recently talked about this word “gospel.” It means good news. In a word, the gospel is Jesus. In three, Jesus is LORD. Paul’s astonished, he marvels at people turning to a different gospel. He uses strong language. What’s going on here?

    It might be helpful to look back. The Mosaic Law was a group of 613 commands, 365 negative and 248 positive. These Old Testament regulations covered moral, social, and ceremonial matters. Much controversy in the early church surrounded the relevance of Jewish laws upon Gentile Christians…and even Jewish Christians, for that matter. Paul writes later in Galatians:

    For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:14)

    Prior to the coming of the Messiah and the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, obedience to God centered on the Mosaic Law. Jesus said

    “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. (Matthew 5:17)

    The people in Galatia were beginning to think their salvation came from their works, their good deeds, following the law, something only Jesus was able to do perfectly. Paul’s message is simple: there’s one way to salvation and that’s through Jesus.

    False teachers begin by causing confusion. Then they try to get one to leave their faith, and then they introduce a perverted gospel. In Galatia, the false teachers told Gentiles to become Jews. They added religion and works to the requirements, but Paul is saying faith in Christ alone is what is required to be accepted by God. In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul wrote

    For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

    Works will come, but they are they flow from our relationship with God, they don’t establish it.

    We are saved by grace through faith, a gift from God for us to accept.

    Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ. (Galatians 1:10)

    Throughout history, many have tried to please people rather than God. Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz started the AO1 Foundation “to demonstrate the love of God by providing opportunities and support for the less fortunate and those in need.” What I love about AO1 besides the mission is the meaning of AO1: Audience of One.

    Every day we can choose to follow the world or follow God. What will you do today? What will you do tomorrow?

    Clearly Paul is trying to establish his authority over the false teachers.

    I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ. (Galatians 1:11-12)

    I wish we had time to cover the entire text, but jump to the next chapter, Galatians 2:15. Here Paul addresses the lies of works for salvation after a sharp disagreement with Peter regarding circumcision for the Gentiles and the simplicity of the gospel.

    “We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles know that a person is not justified by the works of 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 the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified. (Galatians 2:15-16)

    Justified is a legal term meaning “to declare righteous,” the opposite of condemnation. We are all condemned sinners but we can be justified by faith in Jesus Christ. Unless you’re perfect, your good works will not be enough to satisfy God’s judgment. Only faith in Jesus can do that.

    Paul abandoned some Jewish observances, causing alarm among the religious.

    “But if, in seeking to be justified in Christ, we Jews find ourselves also among the sinners, doesn’t that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! If I rebuild what I destroyed, then I really would be a lawbreaker. (Galatians 2:17-18)

    God’s grace doesn’t mean we are encouraged to sin. Quite the opposite. In fact, the more we understand God’s grace and sacrifice for us, the more we want to obey God and live lives that bring Him honor and glory. If our emphasis is on doing good things, the temptation to be arrogant, judgmental, and self-righteous like the Pharisees in Jesus’ day is staggering. If our focus is on Jesus and what he has done for us and our desperate need for his mercy, his kindness will lead us to repentance and righteousness.

    “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (Galatians 2:19-21)

    When we trust Jesus, we participate in his victory over sin.

    Let me make this as simple as I possibly can:

    1. Jesus died to pay the price of our sins and bring us abundant life now and eternal life with God beyond the grave.

    2. It’s all about Jesus. You can’t get to heaven—or experience the ultimate life now—without Jesus.

    3. With all due respect to other religions, our faith is unique in that it’s not what we do but what Jesus did that gives us life. If there were other ways to know God, Jesus would’ve gladly skipped the cross and let us earn salvation through our good works.

    4. Jesus is the way, the one way to God. Jesus is the way, the one way to God.

    D6 Doorposts: The fact that no one can earn justification through works of the Law demonstrates that I cannot save myself; I need a Savior. God offers salvation and forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ.

    So What?

    A few days ago, I met two twentysomething men at the UpTown Association Annual Meeting. I told them I hate organized religion—which often gets a response, especially after I told them I’m a pastor! I said, “I’m all about Jesus, but I hate religion.”

    Some church people have told me, “That’s a little harsh.” But the recent Mission 119 study of the book of Luke has reminded me of Jesus’ attitude toward the religious people who piled rules and regulations upon people, missing the point of God’s quest for a relationship with us. I’m reminded of these precious words from the late Billy Graham:

    “It is the Holy Spirit's job to convict, God's job to judge and my job to love.” ― Billy Graham

    Love the sinner and hate your own sin!

    Religion is all about humans trying to earn God’s favor. Faith in Jesus demands we confess our sins, repent, and receive God’s amazing grace through Jesus. The cross was enough!

    Essentially our text for today is Paul’s attack on religion. It’s all about Jesus, not our good works.

    Some things never change. It never ceases to amaze me how many people will take tradition and culture and turn them into idols. In Paul’s day, it was eating kosher and circumcision, among other things.

    Tragically, we have sent a message to our culture that we’re against everything.

    We’re against abortion.
    We’re against smoking.
    We’re against drinking.
    We’re against swearing.

    Now I’m not saying I encourage those things, but I just wonder how often we add things to the gospel. And what if we became known for what we are for? We are for life, love, peace, joy, kindness, goodness, generosity…people!

    As I’ve said before, religion says


    Do the right things (or appear to do the right things), believe like us, and then you can belong.

    Jesus reversed it time and time again. I was reminded of this several times during our Mission 119 study of Luke.


    The message I long to send to our city is, “You belong here.” Jesus welcomed everyone into a relationship with him…and the Father. “Come as you are…but don’t stay that way” might be another way to say it since we are all called to grow, mature, and follow Jesus.

    When people feel loved and belonging, the gospel becomes almost irresistible. Jesus saw it and I’ve seen it…people belong and want to believe. They ask the reason for the hope we have. Few in our post-Christian culture will respond to megaphone-touting street preachers, but when we are in relationship with people far from God, our faith will leak. If we live lives worth following, belonging will lead to belief. People begin their journey of following Jesus…and get the Holy Spirit who then gives them the power to behave.

    When we focus on the external behavior without the power of the Holy Spirit, it’s almost impossible for someone to change. When the focus is on belonging, belief and behavior will follow.

    So here’s the challenge: do you have a relationship with an unchurched person? Let me be more specific: have you shared a meal or coffee with a non-Christian in the past six months? I don't mean a religious conversation; just a simple friendship.

    If not, perhaps legalism and religion have kept you from engaging with people Jesus died to save. It’s not by your good works or theirs that salvation is achieved. It’s only by God’s grace and the work of Jesus on the cross. That’s good news…and good news needs to be shared!

    If you’ve never trusted Jesus with your life, why not begin today? He loves you and proved it by dying for you. You can try to earn your way into God’s favor, but you’ll never succeed because we’re all sinners. Jesus died so we can live! You can’t save yourself. We need a Savior and that’s why we love and worship Jesus.

    Credits: some ideas from: D6, Galatians (Hippo/Africa Bible Commentary Series)

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
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