Only Grace, Not Circumcision

Message: only grace is needed, not circumcision or any other symbols, based on Galatians 6:1-18.

Introduction 

Thinking about circumcision made me think of the symbols we all carry around:

  • Signet ring – bears my initials, given to me by my parents.
  • Wedding ring – bears both our initials and wedding date (c.f. ‘lady in the lake’ murder story – google it).
  • Help for Heroes band – anyone can wear (for only £2!), but I used to be in the RAF.
  • My Watch – not really symbolic, but indicates responsibilities.
  • My cross – I wear it because I belong to Jesus Christ (not as a good-luck charm).

Exegesis: Galatians 6 

This is the final chapter of the letter that is all about GRACE:

  • Bear each other’s burdens to obey the law (vv1-2).
  • Judge yourself – beware prideful comparisons (vv3-5).
  • Support Christian teachers (missionaries & minsters) – in the UK! (v6).
  • God can’t be fooled, you reap what you sow (vv7-8).
  • Do good to all, all your life, for God’s reward! (v9).
  • Especially do this for you Brothers & Sisters in the faith (v10).
  • This is personal!  Personal faith is a recurrent theme for Paul (c.f. his Jewishness). (V11).
  • The circumcisers focus on outward things so they can fit in; even they don’t obey the law they say they are promoting! (vv12-13). 
  • Paul’s focus is the cross of Christ that killed the old person of sin and enables the inner transformation to the new person (vv14-15).
  • Paul is circumcised and he also has other scars to prove his loyalty to Christ! (v17).
  • In the end it’s all about Grace – that’s the best Paul can wish them (v18).

Application

I think that there are two key verses here.

  • “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.”  (NIV, v7).
    • This is a warning to those in Christ who might abuse God’s grace.
    • We can’t ignore God’s instructions or neglect his Word and expect to profit.
    • In God’s universe there are consequences for every action.
  • “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation.” (NIV, v15).
    • I don’t think that Paul is deriding his circumcision (although it’s just one of many scars on his body).
    • But it only an outer symbol of an inner conviction – a new relationship with God that produces a new lifestyle in response.
    • Similarly, there is nothing wrong with wedding rings, but imagine that I was a lousy, abusive or unfaithful husband; then the ring would just be a reminder of my failure.
    • Worse, for those who know the truth – and God knows everything – the ring is then a mockery of everything it is supposed to be. 
    • Grace is the key to this change – we call it ‘salvation’ – that unlocks the new person.
    • Even now that we are saved, we need Grace to keep us going without backsliding or going stale, or becoming smug and satisfied with outer respectability.

Conclusion

Therefore I hope that we will never point to mere symbols to justify ourselves.  Instead I wish us all the very best, God’s Grace, to help us in our ongoing inner transformation and matching outer life style: our new life in Christ.

Grace

A sermon on grace, based on Galatians 1:1-12 and 1:11-24.

Galatians 1:1-9: Grace is Key

Paul’s greets his audience, prays for them and gets straight to business.

  • Vv 1-2.  Paul: an ambassador sent directly by God and Christ – raised from the dead.
  • Vv 3-5.  A (short) prayer for the Galatians (northern Turkey), emphasising Jesus’ sacrifice to save them from their sins and from living a world ruled by ungodly powers.
  • Vv 6-7.  Paul tackles the issue head-on:
    • The Galatians have strayed from the pure Gospel of grace from Christ.
    • They have been distracted by the Jewish tradition that demands the observance of practices such as circumcision, in order to be accepted by God.
    • This is no Gospel – where is the Good News of forgiveness at no cost to us?
    • This is an insult to the sacrifice of God’s own Son, Jesus Christ, on the cross!
  • Vv 8-9.  Paul issues a ‘double anathema’.  He denounces anyone who would pervert the Gospel, even if they were an angel; perhaps he is reminding his Jewish critics that Satan (the ‘accuser’) was an angel, who seeks to punish us for our sins. 

Galatians 1:10-12: A First-rate Gospel 

Paul makes a plain statement to rebut his critics.

  • He is not a populist seeking favour with an ‘easy’ or second-rate Gospel to please people.
  • The Gospel that Paul preaches comes direct from God himself.

Galatians 1:13-24: Grace is Central

Grace is absolutely central to Paul for very personal reasons.

  • Vv 13-14.  Paul persecuted the church fiercely (inc. murder) driven by his zeal for Judaism.
  • Vv 15-16.  Yet God revealed Jesus to Paul and called him to preach.
  • Vv 17-19.  Paul did not seek by men (even the apostles), but followed God’s instructions.  (He refers to Peter and James – other good Jews who betrayed Jesus, but who were forgiven.)
  • Vv 20-24.  In his previous missionary work Paul did not rely on endorsement by church leaders; rather his totally transformed life and witness spoke for themselves.  

Conclusion

Paul is very passionate about God.  It was always in his nature to be so, but God has personally forgiven Paul’s very personal persecution of God:

‘“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

“Who are you Lord?” Saul asked.

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”  (Acts 9:4b-5).

Paul has been forgiven much and therefore loves much (see Luke 7:42b-43 and v47b). 

Today there is a danger that, in a faddy effort to be ‘inclusive’ and encourage ‘diversity’, the church may abuse grace and offer forgiveness to the unrepentant.  However, this appeasement of sin, this twisting of the Gospel, this heresy, should not put us off.

Paul stakes his life on grace: all sinners are accepted by God, because of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.  Paul knew that he had sinned much and been forgiven much, and he loved God greatly as a result and lived accordingly.  So should we.

Not Power, but Faith

We’re not looking for power, but faith … a Sermon on 2 Corinthians 12:5b-10 (Year B, Proper 9 / Ordinary 14)

Introduction

Sometimes I hear Christians say “if only we really believed and really loved like Jesus we would transform the world,” but Jesus said that most would reject God, and war/poverty would be with us until the end times.  What they really mean is if we had more numbers we would have power!

Scripture – 2 Corinthians 12:5b-10

Paul, a man of great faith, is not healed  (miracles are not a reward for faith).  He explains that he must have this thorn in his flesh, to make him rely on God’s grace.

The Corinthians are wealthy, powerful, clever, successful & strong.  Paul’s two big letters to them (16 & 13 Chaps) are one long rebuke!  He has to justify his authority to say these things and does so – by boasting about his sufferings (Chap 11)!  Paul uses his weakness to shame the strong (as in 1Cor Chaps 1-2).

Application

“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  Great men are almost always bad men” said a wise historian about the idea that religious leaders and kings could not make mistakes.

I mentioned the Islamic State earlier.  The Five Pillars of Islam are: declaring the faith; prayer; giving; fasting; and pilgrimage.  But look what happens when you give people guns – these gentle ideas are quickly thrown out!

We need weakness to remind us to rely on God.  Many of you know my wife but may not know that she has been ill for all her adult life.  Our struggle against this illness has been good for us – it has brought us closer together, stopped us from being able to take each other for granted.  Our relationship with God is like that.

Conclusion

We won’t transform the world for the better by being strong or clever or powerful.  There are lots of strong, clever and powerful people in the world and they’re making it worse as often as better!  We will transform ourselves, not the world, by doing three things:

  1. We will be fallible, average and powerless (what we are now);
  2. but we will rely on God’s Omni-power, -presence, -knowledge and -seeing: faith in God; and
  3. we will be doing the best that we can.