Summary: Paul called rule-keeping "weak and worthless things" when it comes to earning God’s favor - why do we keep going back to them?
Weak and Worthless Things
August 25, 2002
In his book, What’s So Amazing About Grace, Philip Yancey quotes Mark Twain --- he writes that the famous author used to talk about people who were – as he put it - “good in the worst sense of the word.” And Yancey added that this is a phrase that, for many, captures the reputation of Christians today.
How could being good be a bad thing? How can there be a worst sense of the word “good”?
What Mark Twain was talking about in this context, was people who flaunt their “goodness” so much so that they come across as overly judgmental, very intolerant, and also very unapproachable, to the point of people not wanting to be around them at all - in part because people don’t feel a sense of welcome and acceptance around these “good” people - in part because they’re inclined to impose their standards of goodness on you.
They’re people who are not at all unlike some of the people we see clearly described, and clearly condemned, in the New Testament. Of course, the Pharisees are the first to come to mind, because of the many times Jesus had such strong words of rebuke for them.
They’re a group we find easy to cite as bad examples, but hard to see ourselves in – even though that’s often appropriate.
There’s another group, related to the Pharisees because they, too, were good in the worst sense of the word. Paul called them the Judaizers, because they took a group of Christians who had been taught that the way to salvation was by God’s grace through faith, and the Judaizers tried to turn them into law-keeping Jews, to add another layer of rules and regulations, as a requirement to earn God’s favor and blessing.
The apostle Paul had words of rebuke for them just as strong as the words of rebuke Jesus had for the Pharisees, for many of the same reasons.
This morning, we’re going to look at what Paul called “weak and worthless things - that’s the title of this message, Weak and Worthless things.
We’re going to see from the book of Galatians why, when we try to keep laws as a means to earn God’s favor, to earn His love, we’re relying on things that are weak and worthless, and we are, in reality, relying on a different gospel, which is really no gospel at all. Because gospel means good news, and how can it be good news for us to be right back where mankind was before Jesus came?
Dependent on weak and worthless rules to save us.
The gospel of grace has been much on my mind these past several weeks. I think it’s in part because of several conversations I’ve had with different individuals, who were struggling with their own lack of ability to live up to the standards they’d set for themselves.
Now, the standards they’d set up, were not bad standards. I must be careful to emphasize this morning that when we’re talking about grace versus law, we’re not talking about lawlessness, we’re not talking about no standards of conduct and life. We’re talking about depending on our ability to live up to those standards as our means of acceptance before God.
For these people I’ve talked with, these standards were things that were designed to nurture their faith in the Lord. They were disciplines that many of us strive to maintain, because they can help us in our walk of faith. However, these individuals, when they failed in even little ways, to maintain these disciplines, fell into the weak and worthless things trap.
Because they immediately felt condemned, and believed – even unconsciously, that they’d forfeited their relationship with God. That would lead to a downward slide away from God, because instead of responding to the conviction of the Holy Spirit to get back on the straight and narrow path, they responded to the enemy’s condemnation, which said they’d blown it, and they’d blown it so badly that there was no coming back.
As I pondered the marvel of God’s grace, and considered the gospel of Jesus Christ really is a gospel of grace, and I thought about the many Christians, sometimes including myself, who can easily slip into a performance mentality of earning God’s favor, I began to study Galatians, a book in which Paul draws a clear contrast between the true gospel, which is a gospel of grace, and the false gospel he confronted in Galatia, which was a gospel of law, or works.
I chose six key verses to focus on this morning, each illustrating key principles about this disparity between law and grace. Let me review them briefly before we take a look at them individually.