Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Genuine Faith Must Precede Religious Ritual

A sermon based on Galatians 3:27-4:7 developed by Dr. Terry W. Dorsett

Historical Background on Galatians:
               Galatians was written by the apostle Paul to churches scattered across central Turkey that he had personally started to reach non-Jews.
               Some Jewish Christians had come into the area after Paul left and told the non-Jewish believers that they had to follow all the Old Testament laws and Jewish traditions in order to be real Christians.
               This was causing a lot of confusion because Paul had told them that all they needed was faith in Christ alone for salvation.
               The first three chapters of Galatians make it clear that both Jews and non-Jews are saved by faith in Christ and not rituals or traditions.
               This does not mean that rituals and traditions have no place in our spiritual journey. It simply means that rituals and traditions ONLY have value if we first have FAITH.
               Once we discover real faith in Christ, then we begin to find meaning and value in the various traditions and rituals of a particular church.

Verse 27 - For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ like a garment.
               After having made a strong case that religious rituals only have meaning if genuine faith comes first, Paul then addresses an important Jewish tradition that became a key element of Christian theology, the ritual of baptism.
               Jews used baptism throughout their early history in a variety of ways.
               In Jewish thought, baptism symbolized purity of heart, soul, mind and body.
               Jewish people were often baptized several times throughout their lives as they achieved various spiritual milestones.
               Certain Jewish sects practiced DAILY baptism as a part of their religious celebrations.
               When John the Baptist arrived on the scene, he borrowed this ancient Jewish custom as a symbol for Christian repentance.
               Jesus Himself endorsed John’s use of this symbol by being baptized even though He did not need it.
               Jesus also commanded us to preach the Gospel and baptize those who accept it.
               Baptism was an important religious tradition in Jewish culture, but they had lost the meaning of it because they no longer had faith.
               Likewise, when we are baptized, or take part in other religious rituals, without faith, it leaves us feeling empty.
               But when we have real faith, our baptism is like a wonderful garment that fits well.
               Though we will never be worthy on this side of heaven to approach God the Father, because we are covered with Christ, we can approach God with confidence.
               We approach God not in our own strength or power, but in the Name of Christ alone.
               But if we are not IN CHRIST when we are baptized, then it does nothing for us but make us wet. This is why faith MUST precede baptism.

Verse 28 - There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
               Once we find genuine faith in Christ, then all the barriers between us fall away.
               In Christ we are not ranked by our level of Bible knowledge, or our race, or our economic situation, or our gender.
               In Christ we are ranked by the grace of God as equals and we can go as far with the Lord as we allow our faith to take us.

Verse 29 - And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, heirs according to the promise.
               Once we belong to Christ, then we become an heir to all the riches, power and glory of God the Father.
               Though we may not have received all that yet, it has been promised to us.
               If God has promised us so much, why have we not yet experienced the reality of those promises?

Verse 1 - Now I say that as long as the heir is a child, he differs in no way from a slave, though he is the owner of everything.
               Paul uses the example of a child who is the heir to a fortune but cannot use any of that money because he is not yet of age.
               Though such a child technically owns it all, it does him little good until he reaches maturity.
               Likewise, we have often not yet experienced all the realities of God’s promises because we are still immature in our faith.
               We often act like spiritual children when we should be moving toward maturity.
               It is amazing how many people have been Christians for five years or longer but act like they just got on the Jesus track yesterday.
               Though we may yet not be as mature as we hope to be, are we more mature in the faith than we were five years ago?
               We will never be able to experience all the promises of God if we remain babes in Christ.

Verse 3 - In the same way we also, when we were children, were in slavery under the elemental forces of the world.
               Before we became Christians we were in slavery to our sinful nature.
               All the religious rituals in the world are unable to free us from our slavery to sin.
               We must first place our faith in Christ.
              God is full of grace and gives us time to grow.
               But we cannot use God’s grace as an excuse to not grow.

Verses 4-5 - When the time came to completion, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.
               There comes a time when God the Father expects us to grow up.
               This was important enough for God the Father to sacrifice His only Son Jesus on the cross to redeem (buy back) us from the world.
               Our spiritual growth cost God His Son.
               Do we really appreciate His sacrifice?
               But God not only bought us back from sin, He has also adopted us as His children.

Verse 6 - And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba, Father!”
               God knows we cannot do this on our own, therefore He sent the Holy Spirit into our hearts to help us grow.
               How often has the Spirit told us to do something, or NOT to do something, and we ignored Him?
               When we ignore the Spirit, we are acting childish.

Verse 7 - So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.
               When we let the Spirit guide us, we begin to grow up.
               When we begin to grow up, we no longer act like the slaves to sin we once were.
               Instead we begin to act like the heir of God that we are.
               Various rituals in the church are designed to help us along the way to maturity, but if we do not start with a foundation of faith, the process bogs down.

  1. The value of religious rituals is in the faith that under-girds them.
  2. Though we were once in slavery to sin, genuine faith in Christ frees us from that slavery.
  3. God wants our faith to mature so that we can experience all of His promises. 
  4. Religious rituals that are under-girded by faith can help us in mature in our faith.

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