Summary: God's grace isn't a relic from our past, it is our daily manna.
Did you hear about the joke about the Baptist pastor who snuck out to the horse race track? He’d never bet on the horses before, so he wasn’t sure where to put his money. Before one of the races he watched as a Catholic priest pronounced a blessing on a particular horse. So he bet all his money on that horse. That horse was leading down the stretch when it suddenly dropped dead on the track. The Baptist preacher was upset and found the Catholic priest. He said, “I bet all my money on that horse because you blessed it.” The priest said, “That’s the problem with you Baptists. You can’t tell the difference between a blessing and last rites.”
For sure, we don’t understand some of the rituals of other churches, and if you’re from another church, you may be confused about why we do or don’t do certain things. You may feel more comfortable genuflecting or kneeling, or having the Lord’s Supper every Sunday. There’s nothing wrong with those things, but when you simply go through the motions of religious rituals you miss the point of the Bible. God isn’t interested in religion. He wants to have a personal relationship with you.
Paul wrote this letter to the churches in Galatia, which is the area of Southern Turkey today. He had started these churches by preaching salvation is by grace alone. But after he left, false teachers came in and started teaching that the cross was not enough. In order to go to heaven, Christians had to obey all the Jewish law as well. You can imagine Paul’s frustration and consternation when he hears about this heresy. He wrote this letter to challenge the believers to reject these false teachers and to stay on the grace-way.
Liberty is a value that is precious to us as Americans. The date was March 23, 1775, and the place was St. John’s church in Richmond, Virginia. The occasion was the Virginia Convention, and the issue was whether or not Virginia should join the other colonies in rebellion against England. The general mood of the delegates was to find a pathway of peace with England. Thomas Jefferson and George Washington were delegates in attendance.
However, eyewitnesses reported when 39-year old lawyer Patrick Henry rose to speak, his speech turned the tide. The entire speech reads like a sermon. At one point, Henry said, “suffer not yourselves to be betrayed with a kiss.” But his final words brought the delegates to their feet in support. He said: “If we wish to be free...we must fight! An appeal to arms, and to the God of hosts, is all that is left us... Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God. I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”
Those passionate words caused the delegates to shout in unison, “Give me liberty or give me death!” Paul is just as passionate in his letter to the brothers and sisters in Galatia. However, the choice he points out is between Christian liberty or religious legalism.
Galatians 5:1-4. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.”
Look again at those ten powerful words in verse 1. This is the key verse in the book of Galatians. Would you repeat them after me? “It is for freedom…that Christ has set us free.”
In this message I want to talk about what it’s like to live under the bondage of religious legalism, compared to living under the liberty of God’s grace. Let’s look at three important parts of our lives: Our identity; our ability; and our security.
1. MY IDENTITY
One of the most important questions you’ll ever answer about yourself is: Who am I? Everyone has a self-image. It’s how we see ourselves. Where do you get your sense of identity or worth?
LEGALISM: My worth is based on what I DO or DON’T do
If you are a legalist your self-image rises and falls on how “good” or “bad” you think you are. And some days you’re really good and feel pretty good about yourself. Right now, you probably feel pretty good about your status as a Christian. After all, you got up and came to church while others are heading to the lake. You gave a good offering to the Lord, and you are filling in the blanks on the outline, so you’ve got that going for you.