Sunday, January 8, 2012

No Turning Back

A sermon outline based on Galatians 4:8-20 developed by Dr. Terry W. Dorsett.

Introduction
          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 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 but those rituals are not required for salvation.

Verse 8 - But in the past, when you didn’t know God, you were enslaved to things that by nature are not gods.
          Paul reminds the Galatians that before they came to genuine faith in Christ they had been enslaved by false religious ideas from their pagan deities.
          These false religions had many bad elements in them that enslaved people.
          Paul reminds them what it felt like to be in slavery to these terrible religious practices.
          Once we find genuine faith in Christ, it is important that we not forget what our lives were like before we were Christians.
          That does not mean that we should want to live in the past, or return to our past. It simply means that we must remember how enslaved we felt to our past sins and troubles.
          Slavery to false ideology is NOT positive.
          British statesman Edmund Burke (1729-1797) said the famous line that many politicians use: "Those who don't know history are destined to repeat it.”
          If we forget our personal history, we may well find ourselves repeating it.
          We must always remember that there was a time in our lives when we did not understand the Lord as we do now, and it was NOT the best way to live.

Verse 9 - But now, since you know God, or rather have become known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and bankrupt elemental forces? Do you want to be enslaved to them all over again?
          Paul was asking a rhetorical question; obviously the Galatians would not want to return to the painful lives they once lives.
          Yet by embracing Jewish religious practices without real faith in Christ, they were doing exactly that.
          The Galatians were being tempted to simply replace all their empty pagan rituals with empty Jewish rituals.
          Paul wanted them to understand that one was no better than the other if Christ was left out of the equation.
          They would be enslaved to empty rituals either way.
          In our modern era, some people do exactly the same thing when they jump from church to church without experiencing genuine conversion.
          Some people are truly converted but harbor bitterness and anger toward others.
          They think that by changing churches all those bad feelings will go away.
          But we carry those things inside of us until we learn to go and let grow up in the faith.
          If we refuse to be converted, or refuse to mature in our faith, we will find that life is bankrupt.
          Being bankrupt means that the debt is so large that it can never be repaid.
          We can also be bankrupt emotionally, relationally and ideologically.
          There are some things in our past that we will never be able to fix on our own.
          We must seek God’s forgiveness and offer forgiveness to others so we can learn the lessons we need to and move on in life.
          We cannot live in the past, acting like non-Christians.
          Nor can we “ritualize” away the past acting religious without genuine faith in Christ.
          The way of Christ is the way of forgiveness.
          The way of Christ looks forward in life.

Verse 11 - I am fearful for you, that perhaps my labor for you has been wasted.
          Paul is concerned that perhaps the Galatians had never really experienced genuine salvation.
          Remember, only God knows our hearts.
          Many who act religious will not make it into heaven (Matthew 7:21-23).
          It is relationship with Jesus, not religious ritual, which guarantees our eternal salvation.

Verse 12 - I beg you, brothers: Become like me, for I also became like you. You have not wronged me.
          Paul begs them to think about how their actions are impacting their spiritual condition.
          Notice Paul refers to them as “brothers,” which is the way believers in the New Testament identified others who they thought were true believers.
          Even though Paul feared they may not be genuine believers, he gives them the benefit of the doubt. Probably a good example for us to follow.
          Paul begged them to become like him.
          Paul was referring to what he said in 1 Corinthians 9:20-22- To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win Jews; to those under the law, like one under the law— to win those under the law. To those who are outside the law, like one outside the law—to win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, in order to win the weak.  I have become all things to all people, so that I may by all means save some.
          Paul was reminding the Galatians how he had to step outside his comfort zone as a Jew in order to reach out to them and share the Gospel.
          Paul did not have to BECOME a Galatian; he simply had to spend some time in their world understanding it so he could connect with them.
          If the Galatians wanted to practice some of the Jewish rituals, or celebrate some of the Jewish festivals or special days in order to better understand the Jewish view point, it was not wrong.
          But they did not have become Jewish in order to be Christian.
          One of the problems they were facing was they were trying to BE Jewish, but they were not Jews.
          It simply was not going to work.
          Pretending to be Jewish was not going to make them spiritual, just as acting the way they used to before they were Christians was not going to make them spiritual.
          They had to be who they were in Christ.
          We all need to be willing to step outside our comfort zone from time to time in order to relate to those around us.
          But we do not have to engage in worldly practices, nor pretend to be super spiritual, in order to be effective followers of Christ.
          To be an effective follower of Christ all we have to do is love Jesus and care about others.
          Paul was trying to get the Galatians to realize that just as he had stepped outside his comfort zone to reach them, they might need to do the same thing to reach others.
          BUT, they did not need to return to the past nor become “holier than thou” in the process.
          It was about relationship, not ritual.

Verse 20 - I would like to be with you right now and change my tone of voice, because I don’t know what to do about you.
          Paul realized he was being a bit harsh, but it was out of love for these people he had poured so much of his life into.
          If Paul had been physically present instead of “speaking” through a letter, his tone of voice and body language would have projected his real love for the people even if his message was hard to hear.
          Paul wanted the Galatians to hear his heart for them.
          As we step outside our comfort zone so we can interact with other people, we should pray that they hear our hearts even if our words are sometimes inadequate.
          A heart focused on Christ will communicate what needs to be said one way or the other.

Conclusion:
          Some religious ideology is unhealthy.
          A healthy spirituality is focused on Christ.
          That requires letting go of some things in our past without forgetting the lessons learned.
          It also requires stepping out of our comfort zone without pretending to be something we are not.
We must learn to hear each others' hearts even when our words are not perfect.

1 comment:

  1. That was such a good word this morning!

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