03 Feb What makes you a Christian?
By Faith, or by Works of the Law?
3 O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. 2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by[a] the flesh? 4 Did you suffer[b] so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? 5 Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— 6 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?
INTRODUCTION AND CONTEXT
If someone ask you “you called yourself a Christian. What makes you a Christian?” For example, you share Gospel to other people outside and they ask, “what makes you a Christian?” Some people will answer, “there are few steps before you become Christian. First step is you need to join bible study for good 3 months. The second step is you cannot miss church at all. Last step is baptism. When you get a baptism certificate, your Christian life begins. Is that true? That question is what we try to answer today. “What makes you a Christian?”
Before we go straight to the Scripture, let’s understand the context of the Scripture. If you don’t know, the book of Galatians is the letter from Paul to people in Galatia. Let me explain the context with the illustration. Imagine that RSI is City of Galatia and all of us are Galatian. Last year, Ps Yosia preached week in week out about Gospel. Ps Yosia preached “Church, we are saved by Grace through Faith alone. You don’t need anything else. It is not based on your performance”. Every single week, he faithfully preached Gospel-centered message.
While I was sitting and listening in that corner, there is some doubt in my heart. “Really? That’s it? You just need that to get saved?” Every single week, that doubt was increasing slowly in my heart. Again, if you just come now, this is just illustration. I don’t teach new message or try to “rebuke” Ps Yosia. So, every single week, I keep questioning his teaching because it just does not make sense. It is too easy. Until into the point, I had enough and think about how I can fix this and bring back the church to “better” way.
And, out of nowhere, God answered my prayer. Ps Yosia asked Ellis and me to preach in January. Wow! This is a sign from God. I could not wait any longer. This is the best time for me to “fix” this issue. But I have another challenge, I need more than one week to convert people in here. One week is just not enough. So, I need Ellis to help. My first mission to convert Ellis. I would not say directly “Lis, do you know Yosia’s teaching is wrong”. Professional False Teacher would not do that. As Professional False Teacher, I have to use nice wording and does make sense. “Lis, aren’t we grateful to have Ps Yosia, What a great message he preached every single week. But God just opened my eyes a few weeks ago, yes we need Gospel but it is not enough. There are few reasons why I said this which are; firstly it does not make sense to believe truth that you just need faith to get saved. Secondly, I think this is not relevant to this era. Yes, it might be true 2000 years ago during apostle era but I don’t think it is relevant in the millennial era. And lastly, my previous pastor in the previous church did not teach me this. It is a bit weird. I don’t say Gospel is not good. Don’t get me wrong. It is just not enough by itself. We as leaders in this church have to do something. While Ps Yosia will be in Malaysia and Thailand for conference – let’s fix this”
Thus, the first week, Ellis preached about Gospel + work. “Church, old testament taught us about Law. If we look Old Testament, we cannot close our eyes and avoid that God also asks us to do something to get saved. Old Testament says that “You are dirty and you have to do this to make us clean.” Look at Abraham, he needs to get circumcised. God also wants us to fulfil all those laws to get saved. There are a lot of laws but don’t worry I will summarize into a few points that related to us. This checklist will be the most important thing in our Christian life. Usher will distribute a piece of paper called TICKET TO HEAVEN. There will be a checklist that we need to do for our salvation.
Ticket to heaven (weekly checklist): pay offering, never miss daily bible reading, never miss church, don’t touch alcohol, pray before eating …. (10 more points)
At the end of service, if you believe and want to commit this, can I have AMEN? 50% of the church say Amen. And Ellis asked again “Not everyone yet, if you believe and want to commit, can I get Amen? 100% of church say Amen. Even they don’t understand, if the pastor ask Amen, we give Amen.
Following week, it is my turn to preach this. I asked congregation again, I want you to be honest in front of God, if anyone of us miss doing this thing, please raise your hands. 50% of people raised their hand. Now look and reflect what happened to your life last week, did you miss the bus? Did your boss mad to you? Did you get a bad mark? Did your girlfriend leave you? Do you know it happened to you? It is because God is angry at you because you didn’t complete checklist.
On Monday, Ps Yosi watched our sermon video then realized about “ticket to heaven”. People are talking about this in IG with hashtag #savedbygraceplusworks. Because of his love to RSI, he wrote letter passionately and asked Josh Tie as his lawyer to read it in front of congregation. This is letter – (let’s read it again this passage)
3 O foolish Galatians (RSI)! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. 2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by[a] the flesh? 4 Did you suffer[b] so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? 5 Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— 6 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?
7 Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. 8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify[c] the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” 9 So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
URGENCY OF THE MESSAGE
Can you imagine if Ps Yosia calls you “foolish” or “stupid”? You may say he is so rude but Paul called his people foolish. It does sound so rude but I can sense the urgency in this message. Paul wouldn’t say that if this message is not important. This probably resulted from a mixture of anger, love and surprise over their turning back to the old ways. He could hardly believe what they were doing. When Paul heard about people run away from the message of Gospel, he gets 2 options either being harsh like this or be cool – that’s ok, not a big deal and let’s move on. I don’t want to create noise. I am afraid if I am being rude, they will leave me. Paul didn’t choose that path. He doesn’t care about whether people will follow him or not. He cares about those people because it is about their salvation. Like Ps Yosia said, if you see people walking in the middle of the road and there is bus coming to him and will hit and kill him, aren’t you going to scream to save him? That’s what Paul did in this letter.
How stupid are you? When I came and preached Gospel to you, you have seen Jesus Christ as saviour and you knew that there was no other way of being saved. By faith, you has come to believe that salvation is by grace through faith and you did not have to perform or do anything to be accepted by God. But now, what has happened to you? I cannot believe you are being so stupid! (Sorry about my language).
As we read together a letter from Paul, this issue is not something that Paul can just move on and forget. It is something that crucial and important in our Christian life. If Paul just leaves this issue aside, these people in Galatia will still go to church and considered themselves “Christian” and saved but they are not. We may think in Christianity, there are only two groups of people; the first group is people who have been saved and the second group is people who have not been saved. But there is another group which is more dangerous than the second group of unsaved. The third group is people who think they are saved but they are not. This group is most fatal in Christianity. They will keep doing what they believe but it only leads them to destruction. There could be some of us are part of the last group. They still go to church thinking this is what bring me to heaven. They go to MC because they think it will get them to heaven. I will tell you now that none of them will bring you to heaven. As Paul said to people in Galatia, I will tell you “Don’t be fooled by those teaching!”
There are two false teachings that Paul try to rebuke in this letter;
- WE MUST DO SOMETHING FOR GOD TO BE SAVED
It is called Doctrine of Justification by Faith alone. It is one of most important doctrine. In the same time, this is the doctrine that a lot of people do not fully believe. In verse 2 – Paul asked them: Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the Law of Moses? Or you received the Spirit because you believed the message you heard about Christ?
Paul is asking them to flashback and remember to the time of them being saved. Was it because of their promise to obey the law or was it faith in Jesus Christ who has died on the cross as their substitute? This is just a rhetorical question from Paul. The answer is obvious.
One argument from them is “how about Abraham? Abraham need to be circumcised to be righteous” This is what Paul says in verse 6 — 6 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”? Two (2) weeks ago, Jonathan Appel explained this very clear.
Abraham was justified based on faith, not works, not circumcision, not law. Genesis 15:6 – 6 And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness. Abraham believed God before he gets circumcised. Even Abraham believe God before the law has even existed. Paul says that we are saved in the same way how Abraham was saved.
Thus, we don’t get saved because we follow our checklist of “Ticket to heaven”. We don’t get saved because we officially received baptism certificate. We are saved and justified by believing the message about Jesus Christ. That’s what we called FAITH. What is FAITH? AW Pink quoted that Faith is acceptance of the grace and mercy extended to us through Christ. We believe who He is and what He has done for us. Your salvation began by faith alone. We get saved by believing, not by trying hard.
- START WITH FAITH THEN CONTINUE WITH WORK TO STAY SAVED
Paul continued in verse 3 – Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? In other words, Paul asked them that “do you think you can start with believe in faith and now you continue with flesh or obeying the Law?”
Another issue of people in Galatian is they started well then, they were drifted away from Gospel. If we are going back to the context of the letter, deep down, these people knew that they become Christian by faith alone. They knew that they were justified by faith alone. Because this is how they come to Christ in the first place when Paul came to the city and preach Good News about Jesus Christ. But then, false teacher came and taught them about you need to add something in your faith. Let me clarify again that these people did not deny that they must believe in Jesus for salvation BUT they stressed that they also need to obey Law and do circumcision. In other words, they say that “Yes, I believe that Christ has started my Christian life – you become Christian but his works are not finished yet. You must do something and perfected Christ’s unfinished works.” It is wrong!
As Paul said in Phil 1:6 that He who begun a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. From start to finish, our Christian life is by grace through faith. Our Christian life started with faith, continue with faith and will be completed through faith. Faith in Jesus Christ. There is no such thing of performance-based Christianity. Paul did not teach them to be closer to God you need to believe in Jesus plus keeping the law. Therefore, it is wrong when we think the Gospel only for non-Christians. The Gospel is for Christians just as much as it is for non-Christians. All of us need to hear the good news of the Cross, again and again, day in day out.
OUR GREAT PROBLEMS
Now, we have learned about doctrine. We are saved by faith alone. Some people are finding very hard to believe this doctrine of justification by faith alone. They may think it does not make sense. It is not enough. With the world that we are living now, it shows you that you need to work to earn something. One of the reasons it is hard for us is because we do not realize our great problems.
We do not realize how bad we are. Paul says in Romans 3:22-24: 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
It is the wrong view which said that the child was born innocent then because of the bad environment we are corrupted and sin. The truth is all of us were born sinner due to Adam’s rebellion. As a result of Adam’s rebellion, every person is a sinner. The effect of this is we are unable to freely choose to come to Christ and we are separated from God. Before Adam fell to sin, human has a close relationship with God. Human has full access to God. After Adam fell to sin, there is a gap between God and us. This part is something that we commonly get wrong. Many times, we think the gap between God and Human are reachable. Yes, there is a separation between God and us but if we can put a little bit of works, we can reach God. We don’t realize that the consequences of that sin are far more than we thought. We don’t realize that gap is impossible to jump. It does not matter how much work you want to put, it is impossible to jump. This is bad news that we have to realize.
Because of our sin, we are destined to eternal punishment (Roman 6:23). We are hopeless. How can you save yourself? Nothing we can do. But, the good news – God sent Jesus Christ! That is the only solution. Jesus died on the cross with the weight of all our sins. He took our death sentence. Then He rose from the dead showing everyone who He said He was and what He did was true.
“What makes you a Christian?”. From this letter from Paul, I hope that it opens our eyes that there is only one way of salvation which is faith in Christ. When we try to add a thing to that, we don’t complete Jesus finished work but we destroy it. Therefore, you are Christian is not because you are sitting in church. You can be in church but you are not saved. You are Christian is not because you get baptism certificate. I don’t say you don’t need to get baptized. Baptism is the result of our salvation.
This is what Paul tried to say to all of us; “Christian is not someone who just do good works (going church, going to cell group, doing ministry) but someone who has “seen” Jesus on the Cross”.
You may not believe this truth at the moment. But I do pray that, by God’s grace, there comes a day that you finally realize and admit that we are worst sinner, we are hopeless, and we deserve God’s wrath. When that day comes, the only hope is to come to Christ by faith alone.