Summary: This message warns us not to depend on a list of rules, which only makes things worse, but to depend on the Lord, who alone can change us from the inside out as He lives His life through us.
Freedom’s Power (Galatians 2:11-21)
Several years ago, the Chicago Tribune, ran an article about the religious history of the Chicago area. It began with a paragraph about Zion, a small town north of the city: “Rev. John Alexander Dowie left little to chance a century ago, when the charismatic preacher founded the city of Zion as a carefully ordered religious utopia: He immediately outlawed sin.” (Chicago Tribune, 9-22-00; www.PreachingToday.com)
It sounds silly, but no more silly than what many people do in their own lives. In order to get a better life, they try to outlaw certain behaviors, but that seldom, if ever, works.
For example, how many of you are still keeping the New Year’s resolutions you made just a month ago on the 1st of January? This is the 1st of February. How are you doing?
Was there anything wrong with your resolutions? Probably not? You probably had some great ideas to make your life better – like eating less or getting more exercise or spending regular time in the Word.
The rules are good, but they don’t make us better people, do they? If anything, they just make us feel guilty when we don’t follow through.
In fact, trying to follow a list of rules can actually make things worse. Trying to abide by a legalistic standard can actually lead us deeper into sin.
When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. (NIV)
"The circumcision group" were those who belonged to the Jewish group of believers in Jesus. You see, in the first century you had Jewish believers in Jesus – “the circumcision group” – and Gentile believers in Jesus – those who were not circumcised.
Well, Peter had gone to visit the church in Antioch, the first church planted with Gentile believers. & When Peter got there, he disregarded his own Jewish dietary laws and ate with the new Gentile believers. He enjoyed pork and ham and perhaps some shrimp scampi with his new friends in Christ.
But when James, the leader of the church in Jerusalem, sent some of his Jewish buddies to Antioch, Peter stopped eating with the Gentiles. He withdrew from his new friends, because he was afraid of what his old friends would think. Their standards were stricter when it came to diet, and Peter didn’t want his old friends to think he was slipping.
But what do you think that did to his new Gentile friends? It hurt them deeply!
And that’s what legalism does. When we try to make ourselves look good by following a list of rules, then we divide ourselves from one another. We separate ourselves to exclude those who don’t measure up. We consider ourselves better than other believers, and that is just plain wrong, vs.11 says.
Believer as I believe – no more, no less;
That I am right (and no one else) confess.
Feel as I feel, think only as I think;
Eat what I eat, and drink but what I drink.
Look as I look, do always as I do;
And then – and only then – I’ll fellowship with you.
(Chuck Swindoll, Seasons of Life¸ p.286)
Sad to say, that’s the attitude of many in our churches today. Unless you measure up to my standards, then I’m not going to have anything to do with you.
Mark Buchanan talks about the time a friend of his, by the name of Al, assembled a weekend work party to lay sod in his yard. The sun was shining. He had fresh coffee and cinnamon buns. And the crew he’d called together were all good friends. They liked each other immensely.
Then Al said, “Guys, do you realize something? This is it! This is it!” They all stopped.
“Al, this is what?”
“This is community.”
Everyone murmured their assent and congratulated each another. Yes. This is it.
But then Mark said, “Al, this is great, but I don’t think this is it. I like you all too much. Add a person or two to this company who lacks social graces, who looks different, who’s needy, smelly, and irritating. If we truly loved a person like that, then that would be it.”
Silence. Then one of guys said, “Uh, Mark. We’ve accepted you, haven’t we?”
They all laughed, but they got the point.
Then Mark made this comment: “We’re always tempted to turn the church into a club. With our kind of people. With a strict decorum designed to keep up appearances and keep out the, shall we say, undesirables. But Jesus said it’s no credit to us if we love those who love us – our kind of people. We don’t need God to love them; natural affinities are sufficient. But you, Jesus said, are to love the least of these and the worst of these – losers, enemies. That takes God: a supernatural subversion of our own prejudices, and a heaven-borne infusion of God’s prodigal love.” (Mark Buchanan, “This Is It,” Leadership journal, Spring 2008)