FREEDOM FROM RELIGION
An introduction to this explosive fight against the tyranny of religion.
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. (Galatians 1:6-7)
The movie Braveheart came out when I was a Junior in college. I went to see it with some guys from my men’s bible study. We left that film speechless. It was powerful. I am sure that at that age and stage of our lives that film did something to us. I’m not quite sure what it did but I know it did something. Afterwards, most of us started growing our hair long. Within a few months we all had long hair. We had become rebels. It is by far my favoritest movie of all time. Though I haven’t seen it in quite some time, I still remember the famous line.
I am William Wallace! And I see a whole army of my countrymen, here in defiance of tyranny. You’ve come to fight as free men… and free men you are. What will you do with that freedom? Will you fight? Aye, fight and you may die. Run, and you’ll live… at least a while. And dying in your beds, many years from now, would you be willin’ to trade ALL the days, from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they’ll never take… OUR FREEDOM!
His speech encouraged them. Here you are in defiance of tyranny. You are here as free men. What will you do, free man, against those tyrants who want to rob you of that freedom? Will you fight!?
That is what the book of Galatians is all about. It is a fight. Paul is encircling his enemy – with blue face paint – to fight for freedom. There is no other book like it in the Bible. It is a bold face defiant fight against the tyranny of religion. Paul is taking a stand for the Gospel. But let me be very clear. He is not simply defending “truth” – he is defending grace. Which, of course, is the truth, but there were those… and there will always be those… who were and are afraid of grace. Those who pit ‘truth’ against grace as if grace alone is not the full truth, just a small piece of the truth. There will always be those who spread “another gospel” as Paul calls it in this book. “There are people spoiling your freedom with another gospel!”
It is no wonder that Martin Luther, the reformer of the 16th century, absolutely loved the book of Galatians. He fought the same fight. A fight against religion for freedom. Galatians was his favorite work. Luther called it the “Magna Carta on Christian freedom”. He even went so far as to say he was married to the book of Galatians. He effectually called it his Katherine, which has his wife’s name. That would be like me calling the book of Galatians my Kelly!
Luther was the Braveheart of his day. He fought against the tyranny of the Catholic Church. A church that was corrupted by lies and power. They did not teach the Gospel. Instead they taught a religious system of works righteousness. If you tried hard enough, gave enough money, and followed the rules, then you would be absolved from your sins. If you gave money to the church you could even be pardoned from a place called ‘purgatory’, which they taught was a place where the dead must pay for their unforgiven sins. If you lived at that time and listened to the teachings of the medieval catholic church you would be familiar with this anxiety of never measuring up, never being good enough, and punishment is coming.
I wonder, how many people still feel that way today. Honestly, I don’t wonder at all. I know it for fact. It has been said, that the climate of the church in America today is no different than the climate in Luther’s day. There are still those who are afraid of freedom – afraid of grace – and afraid of the Gospel. There are still people who preach a different Gospel, a system of do and dont’s. And I am certain you know that that is true.
Think about this with me…The statistic in this country is that 78% of all Americans do not go to church on any given Sunday. They do not go to worship the God of grace and mercy. Almost 80% of our city do not want to go. How many people do you know who will never [ever] set foot in a church again? How many of them will tell you that they despise Christians and hate organized religion? Why do they think feel that way? Do you think they feel that way because they have grown tired of hearing about God’s love? Are they burdened by his grace and his mercy that he lavishes on his children? Are they weary of the Good News? I doubt it! No, you see, they have this bad taste in their mouth. Not a good taste, a bad taste. Do you know what that taste is? It is religion. It is try harder, do better, stop doing this and don’t do that, and give your money and don’t watch reality TV and only listen to Christian radio and never go to Los Vegas, and don’t ever [never] tell anyone that you struggle with sin, or addictions, or depression. Friends that is not the Gospel of freedom. That is not the good news of Jesus. And that…has… to change!
Won’t somebody give them some Good News. Is there anyone in their lives who would be willing to take a bold stand and tell them that Jesus came to set them FREE, to give them grace, and peace, and freedom!? Please…tell me there is someone like Paul, some one like Martin Luther who will defend them and say, “Sinner, your sins are paid for and Christianity is not a system where you must strive for approval. It is a gift from God to you. You are pre-approved!” That is the message we must preach and that is the tone and tenor of the book of Galatians. Lets look at it.
Paul begins his letter like most all of his letters with the typical greeting.
Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead—and all the brothers who are with me, To the churches of Galatia: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (Galatians 1:1-5, ESV)
Let me comment quickly on a few important things in his greeting. He begins by introducing himself as Paul the apostle. The word apostle is not really a word we use much anymore. It means “sent one”. Paul has been called by God and sent as a messenger to preach the gospel. He is absolutely sure of this because he once was a legalistic Jewish Pharisee who persecuted and murdered Christians. One day he was riding on his horse with a team of soldiers in order to go to a town to kill a bunch of Christians. On his way there the resurrected Jesus appeared to him along the road. Jesus showed up with such great power and light that he knocked everyone off their horses and spoke directly to Paul. From that day forward, Paul became a Christian. Paul left his Jewish religion. Let me remind you, the Pharisees were strict religious legalists. It was all about obedience to the Law. And in that system, Paul was making the grade, he was actually living up to the standards of the Jewish law. He obeyed all the laws of the pharisees and scribes and he was zealous for his religion. So zealous that naturally he began killing Christians who, in his mind, were enemies of that system.
Paul goes on to say that he is not just an apostle but he’s a certain kind of apostle. Not sent by man but sent by God. Essentially, he is saying, “I did not receive my apostleship from other men who looked at me and said I think he can make it as an apostle let’s ordain him an apostle, instead he received his apostleship from Christ himself. Paul is defending his calling and his apostleship to the Galatians because the Galatians were beginning to follow other teachers who were criticizing Paul for preaching a new and different gospel. So Paul is saying, “Listen! I’m an apostle sent from Jesus himself. I didn’t get this message from some teacher. I got it from Jesus!”
What had these false teachers been teaching? They were teaching that we are not saved by grace alone through faith alone but that faith must be accompanied by certain practices and rituals. Circumcision was one practice they wanted to add to the gospel. These false teachers were criticizing Paul for not taking the Gospel far enough. He was teaching and preaching a faith alone gospel and they were teaching and preaching a faith plus works gospel. That is why Paul begins very quickly in this letter defending his apostleship by saying, “I was sent by Christ – so, who are you going to listen to? Me or them? You can listen to me because this is not man’s gospel, this is not my gospel, this is a gospel that was delivered to me by Christ himself.”
Now, after introducing himself he gives his typical greeting. “Grace and peace to you.” Paul always says that. Let me show just the next 3 books of the bible.
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus, and care faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Eph 1:1
Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Phil 1:1
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father. Col 1:1
He always leads with Grace and Peace. Do you know why? Do you know why he always say that? It is because those two words, even though you might typically pass over them thinking they’re just filler, are the bottom line of the Gospel. Paul has one mission and that is to preach the Gospel. So he lays it out, immediately, at the beginning of every letter he writes. Grace and peace are the baseline of the Gospel. Grace is that thing which pardons our sin and peace is that experience which we have after that sin has been pardoned. Martin Luther in his commentary says,
“The article of justification must be sounded in our ears incessantly because the frailty of our flesh will not permit us to take hold of it perfectly and to believe it with all our heart.” Martin Luther
Paul must repeat this greeting because we need to hear the Gospel over and over and over again. We don’t believe it and we too easily turn from grace to religion.
“Sin and conscience torment us, but Christ has overcome these fiends now and forever. These two terms, grace and peace, constitute Christianity. Grace involves the remission of sins, peace, a happy conscience. Sin is not canceled by lawful living, for no person is able to live up to the Law. The Law reveals guilt, fills the conscience with terror, and drives men to despair. Nothing can take away sin except the grace of God.” Martin Luther
We have not even made it past the greeting and already we can sense the tone of this book. Paul is defending his position as one sent by God with a message of good news. That message is Grace and peace. There is no more striving and worrying and climbing. It is finished. Christian, you have been saved by grace and now you are free. Free from worry, free from doubt, and don’t you see how that freedom brings true peace? But wait, it is gonna get better. Listen tho this:
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.” Gal. 1:6
As I mentioned before – the book of Galatians is not like any other book in the Bible. At this point, in a typical letter, Paul usually goes into a prayer of thanksgiving for the churches. He might say something like, “I thank God when I think of you daily in my prayers…” But not this time. Immediately he cuts straight to the point. There is urgency here. He must defend the Gospel. Listen to the intensity of his language. He says, “I am astonished at you! You astonish me! What are you thinking! What is wrong with you, people!?”
I have to admit that there are times when I’ll catch my oldest son doing something that just astonishes me. He might throw a matchbox car at a glass window or he might walk up to his younger brother, take his toy and push him down to the ground. And then… without even thinking, I’ll jump up and yell out, “What is wrong with you!?” Now, I always feel bad after saying that because I remember learning in Psychology that you should never say things like that because it unintentionally teaches your child that there is something wrong with them.
But that is exactly what I hear in Paul’s words. “I am astonished at you! How could you do such a ridiculous thing!? How could you turn from the Gospel of grace and peace and freedom to go back into a so-called ‘gospel’ of slavery? What is wrong with you!?” Let me just tell you, there is something wrong with them And there is something wrong with you and me, because we all do the exact same thing! We just can’t believe that the Gospel is that simple and that freeing. There is something innate in us that makes us want to perform, to accomplish and to earn our salvation. Robert Farrar Capon wrote this sarcastic prayer that perfectly articulates our aversion to grace:
Lord, please restore to us the comfort of merit and demerit. Show us that there is at least something we can do. Tell us that at the end of the day there will at least be one redeeming card of our very own. Lord, if it is not too much to ask, send us to bed with a few shreds of self-respect upon which we can congratulate ourselves. But whatever you do, do not preach grace. Give us something to do, anything; but spare us the indignity of this indiscriminate acceptance.”
You see there is something wrong with us. That is why Luther said, “We must preach the gospel to ourselves daily” because our hearts quickly forget that we are already free in Christ. I read a quote recently how Luther responded to a church member who came to him and said,
“Pastor, why is it that week after week after week all you ever preach to us is the gospel?” – implying that “we’re ready to move on to something else. Certainly we know this by now.” Luther’s response was, “Well, because week after week you forget it, because week after week you walk in here looking like a people who don’t believe the gospel. And until you walk in looking like people who are truly liberated by the truth of the gospel, I’m going to continue to preach it to you.”
Distorting the Gospel
Moving on, Paul says I am astonished that you so quickly desert Christ. Notice that when the gospel gets distorted it is desertion – desertion of Jesus. Paul goes on, not that there is another gospel. They is no other gospel. The Gospel is the good news. There is no other news that is good. Here is the good news, Jesus died while we were still in our sin. His death covers over, pays for, and erases our sin – and “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Rom 8:1) You have been set free, and “if the son has set you free, then you are free indeed.” (Jn 8:36)
If, someone else tries to preach a different message, perhaps one that says, “Yeah, but… with that freedom you must X, Y, or Z…” Would that be good news? No! There is no other gospel. There is no other news that give you grace and peace. There is no other news that gives life and freedom. Everything else is bondage and death! It is an astounding thing indeed to desert Christ for a message of slavery!
Paul is angry. Can you hear that? These teachers have distorted the gospel! They have distorted the message of Jesus. This is still happening today and I say that it is high time we get mad about it. Listen to this:
But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. Galatians 1:8-9
He is so mad he has moved to cursing these distorters of the gospel. And he doesn’t want us to miss it. “I know I just said it, but let me say that again, “If ANYONE, even an angel from heaven, preaches anything contrary to the true gospel – to the faith alone, grace alone gospel – let him be cursed, or let him be damned!” That is what he said. Twice! He is even cursing angels. It has been commented that our modern english translations really don’t help us to see the earthiness of Paul language. He often says pretty – earthy things and our translations seem to offer a..well…less earthy version. But think about what he just said. If anyone preaches/teaches a different gospel they can go to hell. May he be damned. May he be accursed. If any man, or even an angel, or even me – if you hear something different from anyone, may he be damned to hell. Paul takes this Gospel stuff seriously!
IT IS HIGH-TIME TO FIGHT FOR FREEDOM
It is time for the church today to get as mad as Paul in defense of the true gospel of grace and peace. It is time for us to stick our necks on the line just as Martin Luther did at the reformation. We must abandon “once and for all our play-it-safe, toe-dabbling Christianity”. (Ortlund) It is time to fight for freedom – again. Someone needs to declare from the rooftops, “You ‘are not under law but under grace!” (Rom 6:14). Tullian Tchividjian said:
“It is high time for the church to honor Jesus by embracing Grace alone all over again.”
And that is what we are going to do in this series and it is going to be dangerous – because grace is scandalous. It even feels rebellious. Its risky. For me to stand here and preach like this will surely stir up debate. Even now I can hear someone say, “But…But…But…” What about? – and that is because grace is defiant. It is uncomfortable. Does it make you uncomfortable! Good! On author said:
“Many of us have sat under ‘to-do list’ or ‘checklist’ preaching for so long that you have these footnotes and qualifications running through your brain because this sounds so different. And it’s not different because it’s brand-new, I can assure you that! It’s that it’s so old and it has been lost for so long that it desperately needs to be recovered” Tullian Tchividjian
And so let me conclude by saying once again. It is high-time for the church to embrace, and fight for, and preach the freedom found in the grace alone gospel. We are living in a time that desperately needs a reformation. It is time to get defiant against the tyranny of religion and get drunk on grace. That is how one author so eloquently put it. We need to get…
“…drunk on 200-proof grace… and grace has to be drunk straight: no water, no ice, and certainly no ginger ale.” Robert Capon