Saturday, October 22, 2005

"Back To The Starting Block"

(Note: The recording from this week got deleted. This is straight from my notes. I didn't get a chance to edit/correct them before uploading. Sorry in advance for any spelling or punctuation errors!)

People have a habit of taking simple things and making them complex.

  • Do you know how many pages were in the 1891 basketball rule book? Just 2 pages.
  • Do you know how many pages are in a current basketball rule book? There are 114 pages!

Do you think every one of those 112 pages they’ve added has actually made the sport any better?

Making something complicated doesn’t always make it better! I believe one of the devils greatest tricks is to get us to complicate the gospel.

What if being free from the affect of sin and freer power of sin is much simpler than we’ve made it?

Jim Collins is a best-selling author who wrote business book “Good To Great”. This book reveals why some companies go from good to great and why others don’t.

In the book, he talks about something called “The Hedgehog Concept”. This concept is all about how success is found in simplifying things. This is what he says…

In his famous essay “The Hedgehog and the Fox,” Isaiah Berlin divided the world into hedgehogs and foxes, based upon an ancient Greek parable: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”

The fox is a cunning creature, able to devise a myriad of complex strategies for sneak attacks upon the hedgehog. Day in and day out, the fox circles around the hedgehog’s den, waiting for the perfect moment to pounce.

Fast, sleek, beautiful, fleet of foot, and crafty—the fox looks like the sure winner.

The hedgehog, on the other hand, is a dowdier creature, looking like a genetic mix-up between a porcupine and a small armadillo. He waddles along, going about his simple day, searching for lunch and taking care of his home.

The fox waits in cunning silence at the juncture in the trail. The hedgehog, minding his own business, wanders right into the path of the fox.

“Aha, I’ve got you now!” thinks the fox. He leaps out, bounding across the ground, lightning fast. The little hedgehog, sensing danger, looks up and thinks, “Here we go again. Will he ever learn?”

Rolling up into a perfect little ball, the hedgehog becomes a sphere of sharp spikes, pointing outward in all directions. The fox, bounding toward his prey, sees the hedgehog defense and calls off the attack. Retreating back to the forest, the fox begins to calculate a new line of attack.

Each day, some version of this battle between the hedgehog and the fox takes place, and despite the greater cunning of the fox, the hedgehog always wins.

Berlin extrapolated from this little parable to divide people into two basic groups: foxes and hedgehogs.

Foxes pursue many ends at the same time and see the world in all its complexity. They are “scattered or diffused, moving on many levels,” says Berlin, never integrating their thinking into one overall concept or unifying vision.

Hedgehogs, on the other hand, simplify a complex world into a single organizing idea, a basic principle or concept that unifies and guides everything.

It doesn’t matter how complex the world, a hedgehog reduces all challenges and dilemmas to simple—indeed almost simplistic—hedgehog ideas. For a hedgehog, anything that does not somehow relate to the hedgehog idea holds no relevance.

Jim Collins goes on…

Princeton professor Marvin Bressler pointed out the power of the hedgehog during one of our long conversations: “You want to know what separates those who make the biggest impact from all the others who are just as smart? They’re hedgehogs.”

Freud and the unconscious, Darwin and natural selection, Marx and class struggle, Einstein and relativity, Adam Smith and division of labor—they were all hedgehogs.

They took a complex world and simplified it. “Those who leave the biggest footprints,” said Bressler, “have thousands calling after them, ‘Good idea, but you went too far!’”

Jim Collins ends with this…

To be clear, hedgehogs are not stupid. Quite the contrary. They understand that the essence of profound insight is simplicity. What could be more simple than e = mc2?

What could be simpler than the idea of the unconscious, organized into an id, ego, and superego? What could be more elegant than Adam Smith’s pin factory and “invisible hand?”

No, the hedgehogs aren’t simpletons; they have a piercing insight that allows them to see through complexity and discern underlying patterns. Hedgehogs see what is essential, and ignore the rest.


Today we’re going to untangle the mess that legalism has made of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. We going to look at what the essentials are so we can learn to ignore the rest.

Before we get into today’s ideas let’s do a quick review of what we looked at already…

We’re looking at the most amazing idea found in the whole Bible: grace. The idea of grace is what makes Christianity different than any other religion.

Most other religions are basically based on what you can do to get to God/heaven, but Christianity is all about what God did to get to us!

Some people think grace just means God overlooks or ignores your sin – that he lets you get away with it. But we saw that that’s wrong! God NEVER overlooks sin!

The punishment still had to happen. The payment for sin still had to be made. That’s what God did through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

For the next 4 Sundays we'll be looking at the book of Galatians. It's a book that is all about the about what grace is and how to receive it. I'm calling this series “Extreme Faith Makeover”.

The first week we looked at Galatians 1. The message was “Jesus Plus Nothing”.

During that first week we saw that when you add anything to the gospel you actually subtract from it. Adding rules to the gospel just makes us a slave again.

We learned that week that there’s nothing we can do to save ourselves. We’re helpless to save ourselves. The only thing we can do is believe in what God did.

Last week we looked at Galatians 2. The message was “The Inevitable Discovery”. We saw that sooner or later every believer discovers that they are still a sinner.

When we make this discovery we can either cling to the law (rules) or to Jesus. One will enslave us and one will free us. How you respond to this discovery will reveal your true opinion of grace!

If you weren’t here with us to hear those messages, I want to encourage you to go to our site and listen to the messages.

Today we’re going to look at the Galatians 3. Before we start, let me remind you of some things…

Who Paul Was
Written by the Apostle Paul a man who knew what it was like to live his life trying to live of to the law. He was a Pharisee and persecuted the church, but, it all changed when he had a miraculous experience on the road to
Damascus. Jesus appeared to him, revealed who he was and helped Paul to understand grace.

Who Were The Galatians?
“Galatians was written by Paul to congregations he had founded in the region of
Galatia in central Asia Minor. (Show pictures of two areas they could be.)

Reason For The Letter
Some Jews had come and attacked Paul as a person (1) and what he taught (2). They said that Paul hadn’t given them all the information they needed to be saved. These people told people that they had to come under the law and be circumcised (live by the old rules) in order to be saved. They said Paul wasn’t a real apostle.

Let’s look at Galatians 3…


“Oh, foolish Galatians! What magician has cast an evil spell on you? For you used to see the meaning of Jesus Christ's death as clearly as though I had shown you a signboard with a picture of Christ dying on the cross. 2Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by keeping the law? Of course not, for the Holy Spirit came upon you only after you believed the message you heard about Christ. 3Have you lost your senses? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort? 4You have suffered so much for the Good News. Surely it was not in vain, was it? Are you now going to just throw it all away?

5I ask you again, does God give you the Holy Spirit and work miracles among you because you obey the law of Moses? Of course not! It is because you believe the message you heard about Christ.”

Paul right from the beginning is telling them what I want you to hear today…

The same way we started in this walk with Jesus is the same way we continue and finish this journey with him.

We started by admitting we were sinners – that we couldn’t save ourselves. We confessed our belief in Jesus’ payment for our sins through his death and resurrection and then we relied on him.

That’s the same way we have to live everyday to the end as a believer!

Jerry Bridges in his book “The Discipline of Grace” says it like this…

“…it is important to realize that we were not only saved by faith at a particular point in time, but we are to live by faith in Christ every day of our lives.”

Paul asks them in verse 2 “Did you receive the Holy Spirit by keeping the law?” No!

He then asks them, “After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?” Let me ask you

Did Jesus forgive you because you deserved it or because of Jesus’ payment on the cross? Then guess what? The only reason WHY he forgives us now that we’re believer sis for the same reason!

It’s never because we deserve it. It’s never because we were good enough before or because we promise we’ll be better next time. It’s ALWAYS because of Jesus!!

God hasn’t changed the rules. We were saved and given new life because of faith and the only way we grow and conquer sin in our lives is by faith. It’s all still by faith!

In fact, Paul reminds us that this isn’t just true about how we started as followers, but it’s how God’s made people righteous from the beginning!

Look at what he says in V.6-9

6In the same way, "Abraham believed God, so God declared him righteous because of his faith." F9 7The real children of Abraham, then, are all those who put their faith in God. (This was a slam against the legalistic Jews believers who came to confuse the Galatians, because they thought they were the real children of Abraham, because of circumcision!”)

8What's more, the Scriptures looked forward to this time when God would accept the Gentiles, too, on the basis of their faith. God promised this good news to Abraham long ago when he said, "All nations will be blessed through you." F10 9And so it is: All who put their faith in Christ share the same blessing Abraham received because of his faith.”

Faith is how Abraham was made righteous with God! We are considered Abraham’s children and we receive the same blessing he did because we believe.

Let’s keep reading. Look what Paul says in v. 10-14

10But those who depend on the law to make them right with God are under his curse, for the Scriptures say, "Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all these commands that are written in God's Book of the Law." (deut. 27:26)F11 11Consequently, it is clear that no one can ever be right with God by trying to keep the law. For the Scriptures say, "It is through faith that a righteous person has life." (Hab. 2:4)

"12How different from this way of faith is the way of law, which says, "If you wish to find life by obeying the law, you must obey all of its commands." (Lev. 18:5) 13But Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law. When he was hung on the cross, he took upon himself the curse for our wrongdoing. For it is written in the Scriptures, "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree." (Deut. 21:23)F14 14Through the work of Christ Jesus, God has blessed the Gentiles with the same blessing he promised to Abraham, and we Christians receive the promised Holy Spirit through faith.”

Paul is saying you have two different tracks to run the race of life on:

· Law: you live a certain way to be accepted/forgiven v. 10 “those who depend on the law to make them right”

· Faith: you live a certain way BECAUSE you have been accepted/forgiven v. 11 “It is through faith that a righteous person has life." – Hab. 2:4

These two things are opposite ways of living. They can't exist on the same level at the same time. They work against each other!

Phillip Yancey in his book “Soul Survivor” looks at what he calls “13 unlikely mentors who helped his faith survive the church”

One of these 13 people he talks about is the Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy.

Leo Tolstoy was a man who became a believer who tried with all his effort and heart to put the teachings of Jesus into practice.

When he read where Jesus told the rich young rule “Sell everything you have and give it to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven.”

Tolstoy freed his serfs, gave away his copyrights, and began to dispose of his immense estate.

But Tolstoy had a problem.
Yancey says this, “What Tolstoy encountered in the gospels attracted him like a flame; his failure to attain it ultimately consumed him.”

Yancey later says this about Tolstoy, “His desire to reach perfection led him to devise ever new lists of rules. He gave up hunting, tobacco, alcohol and meat. He determined to sell or give away everything superfluous – the piano, the furniture, carriages – and to treat all people alike, from governors to beggars. He drafted rules for developing the emotional will, rules for developing lofty feelings and eliminating base ones, rules for subordinating the will to the feeling of love.”

Tolstoy is the perfect example of someone who tried to find salvation in rules and living out the law! And he’s the perfect example when someone decides to run on that track in life…

Yancey says this about Tolstoy, “Yet he could never achieve the self-discipline necessary to abide by his own rules. He kept the piano and the furniture after all, He signed the estate over to his wife, but continued living in it, and was served his vegetarian meals by a white-gloved servant.”

Sometimes Tolstoy was able to accomplish great good. When famine hit the area he spent two years organizing relief.

But in the end he died a deeply unhappy man. That’s where the track called the law leads to when we decide to run on it!

But Yancey in his book “Soul Survivor” gives us another mentor he learned from that gives us a different example. He is another Russian novelist named Feodor Dostoevsky.

Dostoevsky was a believer too. Early in his life he underwent what Yancey calls “a virtual resurrection”. He had been arrested for belonging to a group judged treasonous by Tsar Nicholas I, who to teach these young radicals a lesson staged a fake execution.

After spending 8 months in jail awaiting sentence, suddenly on a freezing morning 3 days before Christmas the conspirators were ordered out of their cells and to a public square where to their horror an official read the sentence condemning them to death.

They had no time to absorb the news, and no possibility of appeal.

A firing squad stood ready. Bareheaded, robed in white burial shrouds, hands behind them, they were paraded through the snow before a gawking crowd.

A clerk pronounced the words, “The wages of sin is death” to each prisoner, and held out a cross to be kissed. The first 3 were selected to die and then tied to posts.

At the very last instant, as the order “Ready, Aim!” was heard, as drums rumbled and rifles were cocked and lifted to shoulders, a horseman galloped up with a prearranged message from the Tsar: he would mercifully lower their sentences to hard labor.”

Dostoevsky never recovered from this experience. He had faced death and from that moment on life became precious beyond all calculation. Back in his prison cell, he walked up and down the cell, singing in sheer joy of have life restored.

He wrote his brother, “Never has there seethed in me such and abundant and healthy kind of spiritual life as now… Now my life will change, I shall be born again in a new form.” He folded away the burial shroud to keep as a memento.

His next ordeal was being shipped to Siberia on the stroke of midnight on Christmas day. Three Women had made it their mission to welcome new prisoners and try to bring them comfort. One lady handed him a New Testament, the only book allowed in prison.

Believing that God had given him a second chance to fulfill his calling he poured over it during his confinement. He spent the next 4 years in hard labor and then 6 after that in exile. At the end he came out of it with unshakable Christian convictions.

Dostoevsky suffered badly in prison physically and emotionally. But instead of letting it turn him bitter he returned to civilization with a renewed joy and optimism.

He tucked away memories in his mind of peeking through a gap in the fence for hours watching the green grass and staring at the blue sky. He saw it as the only place God’s world was.

He remembered the generosity of the woman who gave him that N.T and others. He later went on to become a writer. He last and greatest was “The Brothers Karamazov” which Yancey called “one of the greatest novels written”.

Yancey says this “Two days after completing the novel, as if he had nothing more to say, he died virtually penniless. On his lap lay the N.T. given on his to Siberia so many years before.”

He lived a life with ups and downs, but one that was sprinkled with mercies and a life where he never forgot the grace that was shown to him.

Paul says in v. 13-14 that Christ rescued us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse!

We don’t have to run on the track called the Law hoping it can make us right like Tolstoy! We can now run on the track called faith like Dostoevsky!

Let’s go back to the Abraham example, cause something important was left out…

V. 15-18

15Dear brothers and sisters, here's an example from everyday life. Just as no one can set aside or amend an irrevocable agreement, so it is in this case. 16God gave the promise to Abraham and his child. And notice that it doesn't say the promise was to his children, as if it meant many descendants. But the promise was to his child—and that, of course, means Christ. 17This is what I am trying to say: The agreement God made with Abraham could not be canceled 430 years later when God gave the law to Moses. God would be breaking his promise. 18For if the inheritance could be received only by keeping the law, then it would not be the result of accepting God's promise. But God gave it to Abraham as a promise.”

Did you catch what Paul is saying here?

The law came 430 years AFTER the promise – the covenant. Think about that for a minute… God already declared Abraham righteous and made a covenant with him 430 years before he ever gave Abraham’s descendants the law!!!

The promise came first! That means the law was a result of the promise, not the promise a result of the law. If you really understand that, then that’s HUGE! Why?

God gave the Israelites the law because he had already declared they were his people. The law was the benefit for being his people. They didn’t see it as a list of do’s and don’ts!

They saw it as God telling them, “Here are some things (and 10 in particular) that if you do them, then you will succeed in life! If you don’t follow these things, then you’ll hurt yourself, others and me!”

All that God told Abraham he would do for him, and eventually did do for him, was because Abraham had faith in God!
It was not because he obeyed the law!

So what was the purpose of the law? Look at what Paul says in v. 19-25…

19Well then, why was the law given? It was given to show people how guilty they are. But this system of law was to last only until the coming of the child to whom God's promise was made. And there is this further difference. God gave his laws to angels to give to Moses, who was the mediator between God and the people. 20Now a mediator is needed if two people enter into an agreement, but God acted on his own when he made his promise to Abraham.

21Well then, is there a conflict between God's law and God's promises? Absolutely not! If the law could have given us new life, we could have been made right with God by obeying it. 22But the Scriptures have declared that we are all prisoners of sin, so the only way to receive God's promise is to believe in Jesus Christ.

23Until faith in Christ was shown to us as the way of becoming right with God, we were guarded by the law. We were kept in protective custody, so to speak, until we could put our faith in the coming Savior.

24Let me put it another way. The law was our guardian and teacher to lead us until Christ came. So now, through faith in Christ, we are made right with God. 25But now that faith in Christ has come, we no longer need the law as our guardian.”

What is the purpose of the law? To show us how guilty we are and that is supposed to lead us (expose us) to Jesus.

Speed Limit Signs
The speed limit signs can’t to stop you from speeding. They’re there to protect you by warning you. But they can’t stop you!

They’re there so you have no excuse. If there wasn’t any signs you couldn’t get a ticket! But since there is you can!

The law was never given to make us right. It was always only given to show us our need for Jesus! Paul says in v. 22 22But the Scriptures have declared that we are all prisoners of sin, so the only way to receive God's promise is to believe in Jesus Christ.”

Now that Jesus has come the law isn't needed. 25But now that faith in Christ has come, we no longer need the law as our guardian.”


Luciano Pavarotti tells this story…

When I was a boy, my father, a baker, introduced me to the wonders of song, tenor. He urged me to work very hard to develop my voice. Arrigo Pola, a professional tenor in my hometown of Modena, Italy, took me as a pupil. I also enrolled in a teachers college. On graduating, I asked my father, "Shall I be a teacher or a singer?" "Luciano," my father replied, "if you try to sit on two chairs, you will fall between them. For life, you must choose one chair."

I chose one. It took seven years of study and frustration before I made my first professional appearance. It took another seven to reach the Metropolitan Opera. And now I think whether it's laying bricks, writing a book--whatever we choose--we should give ourselves to it. Commitment, that's the key. Choose one chair.

Today I want to tell you to do the same thing: Choose one chair. Choose one way to live for God: either by faith or by the law. You can’t live both ways.

Next week
We’ll continue to find the answer to this question:

Did Jesus die on the cross just so you can be forgiven or did he die so we could also live better lives?

We’ll look at the difference between living like slaves and heirs.
We’ll look at the only way to find joy

In the coming weeks:

We’ll also look ways to use our freedom to become freer instead of using it to become slaves.

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