Plato, in Timeaus, makes the statement that there are 2 kinds of fools: One lacking instruction and the other due to madness. What he is saying is that fools exist because they haven’t been taught, have been taught incompletely OR because they are insane. The first is correctable, the second isn’t. Let me illustrate, the definition of insanity has often been reported as being, “doing the same thing and expecting a different result.” This charge could be leveled at our congress for the past 50 or 75 years: spend more and expect the budget to be balanced. Continue to spend and proclaim loudly that the deficit will be overcome. Spend even more and decry all who stand against progress as lacking faith in the government’s ability to balance the budget. This is insanity, it is madness and it doesn’t seem to be based on a lack of instruction. There is plenty of data in history to counter these thoughts, but it is ignored or explained away. This is one kind of foolishness.
But there is another kind of foolishness, a foolishness that is grounded in a lack of instruction and education. This would be like me checking the voltage on a switch. When it is off, there is none; when it is on, there is 120v. I repeat the process, same results. Again, the same. Now if I go on indefinitely expecting something different, I am either crazy or testing for product failure. But if after 2 or three tests I quit, and go and study more to understand what is happening inside the switch, then my foolishness about electricity and switches is alleviated with new education.
Paul’s opening words this morning are You foolish Galatians!
Who has bewitched you? (Gal 3:1) Is Paul calling them insane and mad, or just uneducated and illogical? The answer depends on how the Galatians respond. IF they refuse to learn, they will be mad, but if they learn then they will have been merely lacking discernment and education. Jesus uses these same kinds of words of the disciples he meets on the road to Emmaus. In Luke 24:25 Jesus said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” This same charge could be leveled at the Galatians and anyone else for that matter who fails to comprehend Jesus’ actions in healing the sick on the Sabbath, or dying on the cross to save sinners, or rising from the dead to conquer death. In fact, everyone has at one time been a fool, for (Titus 3:3) “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.”
We have all been insane and mad at one point in our life. We have all tried to please God with our own works and our own thoughts and our own ways. We have all tried to make God happy with us and we have failed. “But”, according to Titus 3:4-7, “when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.”
The Galatians are in danger of abandoning this truth. This truth, which Peter had given in to for a time in Antioch, the Galatians are in danger of giving in to as well. And so Paul is asking if they are insane or just lacking discernment and need further training. “Which kind of fool are you going to be? Have you forgotten that that Jesus died for you or are you under a spell? Because that is the only thing I can think of that would cause you to turn back to your former worthless ways. Only if someone had taken a voodoo doll of you and stuck pins in your eyes could you turn your gaze from Christ’s completed work onto your own frail and faulty actions. Only if you are a zombie under someone else’s control would you act so contrary to the truth of the gospel. Only if sorcery and demonic influence is at work distorting the gospel but making it palatable would you buy into it. And if this is the case, then run, run like the wind, for all sorcery, all magic, all spells and divination are forbidden to the covenant people.”
Deut. 18:10 Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, 11 or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. 12 Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord…13 You must be blameless before the Lord your God. 14 The nations you will dispossess listen to those who practice sorcery or divination. But as for you, the Lord your God has not permitted you to do so.
Is this a message for today? Is this still relevant in our times? Absolutely, there are countless people out there who believe that their own actions will make them right with God. There are countless “Christians” who believe that their actions keep them in the good graces of God. I was one of them. Before heading to Africa, I fervently believed that after God had saved me, I must then do all the right things to keep God happy with me. I lived in fear of making a wrong choice. I lived in anxiety of upsetting my heavenly Father and bring down his wrath and judgment on me. I was paralyzed and consequently fruitless in my Christian life as I tried so hard to bear my own fruit, apart from the vine, which I was to abide in.
Like the Galatians, “after beginning in the Spirit, I was trying to attain my goal by human effort”. It was pointless, and foolish, uneducated and a satanic distortion of the one true Gospel – that Christ has died, Christ is risen and Christ rescues me from this present evil age. Remember that from the very opening words of Galatians. But that truth is in danger of being lost in our world. There is a huge ecumenical movement afoot in the modern world, trying to get the various sects of Christianity to unite and agree on doctrine. I was part of it as an InterVarsity staff worker where people from various protestant sects and the Catholic Church banded together to minister to children.
Now I am all for this, but unfortunately this downplays all the aspects of doctrine that need to be taken seriously. Christianity Today ran an article in October 2009 about a rift between Protestants and Catholics at George Washington University over the issue of justification. The reformers broke away from the church over the issue of justification by faith, one of the main points of the Letter to the Galatians. They broke away because the Catholic Church taught the following regarding justification (Council of Trent):
1. CANON 9: “If any one says, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.” But the gospel teaches…
a. “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin,” (Rom 3:20).
b. “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,” (Rom. 3:24).
c. “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law,” (Rom. 3:28).
d. “For what says the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness,” (Rom. 4:3).
e. “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” (Rom. 5:1).
f. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God,” (Eph. 2:8).
g. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost,” (Titus 3:5).
2. CANON 12: “If any one shall say that justifying faith is nothing else than confidence in the divine mercy pardoning sins for Christ’s sake, or that it is that confidence alone by which we are justified … let him be accursed” But the gospel teaches…
a. “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name,” (John 1:12).
b. “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law,” (Rom. 3:28).
c. ‘For what says the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness,” (Rom. 4:3).
d. “Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. Such a high priest meets our need — one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself” (Heb 7:25-27).
e. “For which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day,” (2 Tim. 1:12).
3. Canon 24: “If any one says, that the justice received is not preserved and also increased before God through good works; but that the said works are merely the fruits and signs of Justification obtained, but not a cause of the increase thereof; let him be anathema.” But the gospel teaches…
a. “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? 2This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? 3Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” (Gal. 3:1-3).
b. “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. 2Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. 3For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law,” (Gal. 5:1-3).
4. Canon 30: “If any one says, that, after the grace of Justification has been received, to every penitent sinner the guilt is remitted, and the debt of eternal punishment is blotted out in such wise, that there remains not any debt of temporal punishment to be discharged either in this world, or in the next in Purgatory, before the entrance to the kingdom of heaven can be opened (to him); let him be anathema.” But the gospel teaches…
a. “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” (Rom. 5:1).
b. “And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; 14Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross,” (Col. 2:13-14).
5. Canon 33: “If anyone says that the Catholic doctrine of justification as set forth by the holy council in the present decree, derogates in some respect from the glory of God or the merits of our Lord Jesus Christ, and does not rather illustrate the truth of our faith and no less the glory of God and of Christ Jesus, let him be anathema.”
a. This council declares that if anyone disagrees with it, they are damned. But the gospel teaches… (Rom. 8:34) “Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died — more than that, who was raised to life — is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” And
b. (Rom. 8:1) “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,”
And recently in the JOINT DECLARATION
ON THE DOCTRINE OF JUSTIFICATION by the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church (1999), the preamble to the document makes the following statement: “Doctrinal condemnations were put forward both in the Lutheran Confessions and by the Roman Catholic Church’s Council of Trent. These condemnations are still valid…” The document then goes on in section 41 to state, “Thus the doctrinal condemnations of the 16th century, in so far as they relate to the doctrine of justification, appear in a new light: The teaching of the Lutheran churches presented in this Declaration does not fall under the condemnations from the Council of Trent. The condemnations in the Lutheran Confessions do not apply to the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church presented in this Declaration.”
Did you catch that? This document says that the anathemas are still valid, but that this document has superceded them in understanding. That sounds great The Catholic Church has reformed but it still teaches in its Contemporary Catechism “Justification has been merited for us by the Passion of Christ. It is granted us through Baptism.“ (CCC, par. 2020). This is an act beyond faith. Furthermore, heaven is “God’s eternal reward for the good works accomplished with the grace of Christ,” (CCC, par. 1821). And that “Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification” (CCC par.2010)
Is this the gospel? Reward is tied to action. Salvation depends on my work. Is this what the ecumenical movement has come to? Who has bewitched this world? Who has made us foolish? Are we insane or just uneducated? The gospel is still at stake and there are still men and women, churches and denominations trying to change the gospel. So what is the solution? Break the spell by looking at the cross! Break the spell and the ignorance and the madness by looking at the cross. Fix your eyes upon Jesus. Look full into his face, into his passion, into his sacrifice and believe it. That is all. The solution is looking to Christ, and Christ alone. It is the same solution that has always existed.
When the serpents attacked Israel in the desert, and Moses was commanded to make the brazen serpent and exalt it on a pole in the center of the camp, it was to teach the people to look heavenward to God’s son, hung on the cross. The same is true for all who desire salvation and the gospel. Look to Jesus. Remember that our salvation begins in faith – believing what we heard – Jesus died, Jesus rose, and Jesus rescues us. There is no hint of our action in this; it is all his action for us – he died, he rose, he rescues. Remember that our salvation will be completed by him, for (John 6:39) this is the will of him who sent Christ, that I, Jesus, shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.
If that is true, that it begins and ends with Jesus, then believe the in between is based on the work of Christ as well. We cannot add a single thing to our salvation. “We cannot base our justification on our sanctification,” and this is exactly what the Judaizers were trying to do and what other, so called, “Christians” are trying to teach, that our justification and acceptance before God, our forgiveness and new standing as his children is based upon what we do, or don’t do. Phooey! For Gal. 2:21 has already reminded us “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing
We can’t finish Christ’s unfinished work, we can’t refinish it, and we can’t improve it. Why because it isn’t unfinished, it isn’t marred, it isn’t in need of improvement. Jesus’ work isn’t like an antique needing a touch up. It isn’t like my table, which I had to strip and stain again a few months ago. It isn’t like that. It is a finished work, complete in every detail both actively and passively. Jesus has done it all, and God has given it all to you, along with his Spirit to empower you in the faith.
People of God
Phil. 1:6 [be] confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
This is gospel and it isn’t foolish, or insane. And it definitely isn’t magic. It is the grace of God, for each and every sinner who believes!