Christ the Only Savior from the Wrath of God (Galatians Sermon 8 of 26)
January 05, 2014 | Andrew Davis
Wrath of God, Exclusivity of Christ, Grace
September 11, 2001 is a day that would burn in our memories for as long as we live. Those of us who were alive at that time and were following the events of that day, saw the Twin Towers struck by Boeing 767s and explode in fire, and then eventually come crashing down to earth. We will never forget the terror of those images in our minds, the terror of such a sight. For many of us, the most horrible aspect of that day was the sight of people throwing themselves from the building in order to escape being burned to death, falling, maybe almost 1,000 feet to certain death. They were not suicidal as they went to their jobs that day, they were not depressed, they were not filled with any hatred of life as they walked through the halls of the 105th floor and turned on their lights, and turned on their computers, and looked out the window at the Manhattan skyline, and at the New York Harbor as they had done many times before. Jumping out of that same window 55 minutes later would never have occurred to them.
But when the planes crashed into the Twin Towers, and caused their world around them to be engulfed in smoke, in flame, intense searing heat, billowing smoke, they tried to escape, I'm sure, through the hall way. There was no way to get through there, no way to use the elevators, no way to get to the stairs, they went back to their office and looked out of the window, maybe they shattered the window themselves, maybe it was already shattered by the crash. At least 200 people died that day in that way, they made that terrifying bewildering decision, to jump is better than to stay. One particular photo taken by Richard Drew of the Associated Press was entitled "The Falling Man" was run the next day in the New York Times on page seven, but then because of the outcry against it, saying it had somehow desecrated the memories of those that died, the New York Times never ran such a photo again.
On the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy, Susie Linfield, a journalism professor at NYU, published a story in a New York magazine called "Jumpers," she had this to say: "The jumper photographs make clear to us the utter vulnerability of the victims. Those trapped in the Towers had only two choices- To jump to their deaths or to be incinerated- which is to say they had no choice at all. To moralize either 'choice'- to despise one as cowardly and valorize the other as heroic is to misunderstand both. What the 9/11 victims faced was the absence of options." That last comment stuck in my mind with incredible power, it seemed that these tragic people had no choice, there was no way to escape the searing fire that was engulfing their world. Even more tragic, I think, are the videos of people on the highest floors of the World Trade Center that day, leaning out and waving white pieces of cloth desperate for some kind of savior, smoke billowing out of the windows around them. They could see fire below them as they looked down. And they're just looking for some kind of savior and it's actually very difficult to watch, at least it was for me even 12 years later.
Now, these tragic people illustrate the central lesson of today's sermon. They give me an understanding of Jesus Christ is the only savior that there is from the wrath of God. I'm going to make three assertions in this sermon and the world hates all three of them.
- The first is that this world is facing a future raging inferno of immeasurable heat, of infinite power, and eternal duration, this coming inferno is the just wrath of God against sin. It is a fire that will destroy this entire world in judgment and will consume the enemies of God in hell.
- Secondly, Christ, Jesus Christ is God's only provision for escape from this coming wrath. Christ's death on the cross is the only way that sinners can be saved from this fire.
- Thirdly, just as those people had no way to save themselves from the raging inferno, we cannot save ourselves from the coming wrath. Our works cannot make us righteous in the sight of God. Just as there was no way for those tragic people to climb down to safety, there is no way for us to use the law of God to climb up to safety.
Oh, how the world hates and fights these three assertions, all three of them. The world says, "There is no coming wrath of God" or "God, if He exists, loves everyone and will rescue everyone from hell, would not send anyone to hell, it's unworthy of God to display anger or wrath," those kinds of things. The world says that Christ is not the only way to heaven and that it's arrogant for us as Christians to claim that He is, that He is the only way to heaven. Third, the world says that we actually can pay for our sins by our good works, righteousness in God's sight can be obtained by observing some kind of law or pattern of morality.
Now, these assertions that I've made here are hated and opposed by many in the world today, but these assertions that I've made are taught powerfully in the text that we are going to be looking at today, Galatians 2:21 and then Galatians 3:10-14. I kept as my jump off point, as I was meditating on this, Galatians 2:21. It's a text that captivated my mind and my imagination and my thoughts for much longer than I thought it would be. Galatians 2:21 says, "I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, then Christ died for nothing." So I concentrated on the phrase, the grace of God, in Galatians 2:21. We're in the middle here in Galatians, of Paul's train of thought as he's explaining the Gospel of salvation through faith in Christ. The grace of God, then in Galatians 2:21, is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the gracious provision that God has made for us sinners.
I meditate on what the grace of God saves us from. It saves us mainly from the curse of God, the wrath of God. I concentrate on the significance of Christ becoming a curse for us in Galatians 3:13. I zero in on the idea of setting aside the grace of God. He says, "I do not set aside the grace of God." The word 'set aside' means to nullify, to render as nothing. I just like the translation 'set aside,' I think it's the best translation. How the human race tries to avoid the cross of Christ in various ways, especially by gaining righteousness through the law. I zero in on the logic of the verse, that righteousness cannot be gained any other way. That if righteousness could be gained in some other way, then Christ died for nothing. This is the doctrine of the exclusivity of Christ and of the Gospel. And I'm going to talk about these themes and I'm going to end with the Spirit-filled life, the promise of the Spirit-filled life, which I will not develop in length because it's developed more, later in Galatians. But it's the answer to all of the things that come up as we contemplate these things.
These are the four main points of my sermon. First, why the world needs the grace of God: That is the wrath of God. Why does the world need grace? Because of the coming wrath. Secondly, the only way the grace of God comes to the world is through the cross of Christ. Third, how the world sets aside the grace of God, especially through self-righteousness. And then fourth, how the grace of God makes sinners righteous in his sight, first by justification and second through the Spirit-filled life. Those are the four points of the sermon.
I. Why the World Needs the Grace of God: The Wrath of God
First, why the world needs the grace of God, and that is the wrath of God, this is the reason why. Look at verse 21, "I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, then Christ died for nothing." We focus here on the grace of God, what is the grace of God? It's not a theme that's unfolded clearly or emphasized in the Old Testament, it seems as though God was reserving full emphasis on the grace of God for the coming of Jesus into the world. And in some of the translations, the word 'grace' doesn't pop up very often in the Old Testament. But then a river of grace is proclaimed in the New Testament. I like to start at John 1:14: "The word became flesh and made his dwelling among us and we have seen His glory. Glory of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth." And then a few verses later in John 1:17, "For the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." With the coming of Jesus into the world, we have a dawning of the grace of God flowing to the world, not that there wasn't grace in the Old Testament, certainly there was. But it is by Christ that grace comes.
Now, the word 'grace' especially flows through the pen of the Apostle Paul. No biblical writer wrote more about grace than Paul. 86 times, he mentions 'grace', 86 times. He opens all of his epistles the same way, "Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." So what is grace? We said it before, but I like this definition. Grace is the subtle determination in the heart of God. That's what it is. It starts in the heart, the mind of God, toward us in Christ. Grace is the determination, the subtle determination in the heart of God to do us good, we who deserved to be punished eternally. So those aspects of grace, determination in the heart of God, a river of goodness flowing to us as sinners, despite the fact we deserved wrath and judgment. I think that's grace.
Now, grace is especially for salvation from His wrath in reference to our sins. That's a home base of grace. We're sinners and we deserve wrath and judgment, and God saves us by His grace. Ephesians 1:7-8 says in Jesus, "In Him, we have redemption through His blood. The forgiveness of sins according to the riches of His grace that He lavished on us." We have redemption from sin through the riches of grace. Grace is especially on display in reference to the wrath of God. Romans 3:23-25: "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified freely by His grace, through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Him as a propitiation, through faith in His blood." The word 'propitiation,' if you study it and you understand it in the Greek language, it means the setting aside of the wrath of God by a blood sacrifice. So God's wrath set aside by the sacrifice of Christ, so God's grace is on display in that He does not treat us as our sins deserve. Amen, hallelujah. "He does not treat us as our sins deserve," Psalm 103:10.
Now, in Galatians 2:21, the need for grace is seen in the fact that we sinners lack righteousness. Look again at the verse. "I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained by the law, Christ died for nothing." So clearly we lack righteousness. We need to gain righteousness. Unless our righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and teacher of the law, we will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. We lack the necessary righteousness. Why is that? Because we are sinners, we are unrighteous in God's sight. We who lack righteousness, we are, turn it around, unrighteous to God. What is this unrighteousness? It has to do with our sins. We have violated God's laws. We have broken His laws, but friends, it goes infinitely deeper than that. It goes to the very core of our being.
I was listening to a John Piper sermon some time ago. He was summarizing all of Romans 1-7, a summarizing of those seven chapters. If I'm not careful, I might lurch off in that direction right now. But he is summarizing and he is zeroing in on this issue of sin. What is sin? And this is what John Piper said: "What makes sin is not first that it hurts people, but that it blasphemes God. This is the ultimate evil and this is the ultimate outrage of the universe. The glory of God is not honored. The holiness of God is not reverenced. The greatness of God is not admired. The power of God is not praised. The truth of God is not sought. The wisdom of God is not esteemed. The beauty of God is not treasured. The goodness of God is not savored. The faithfulness of God is not trusted. The promises of God are not relied upon. The commandments of God are not obeyed. The justice of God is not respected. The wrath of God is not feared. The grace of God is not cherished. The presence of God is not prized. The person of God is not loved. That is sin."
The infinite all-glorious Creator of the universe, by whom and for whom all things exist, the one about whom it is said, in Him we live and move and have our being, is disregarded, disbelieved, disobeyed and dishonored by everybody in the world apart from Christ. That is the ultimate outrage of the universe. And God is outraged by it. Why? Because God is perfectly holy. He is perfectly holy. It's the most important attribute in the Bible. You could say, "Why would I say that?" Well, it's the only one that's stated three times in a row. There's no other attribute that's stated three times in a row. But in Isaiah 6:3, we have these glorious seraphim and they're calling to one another, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; The whole earth is full of His glory." The holiness of God, theologians tell us, has to do with his separation.
God is infinitely above all creation. He is the Creator and we all are creature. And there's an infinite gap between Creator and creature. That's the holiness. And that's why the holy angels, the burning seraphim who never have committed any sin still are crying "Holy, holy, holy" as they cover their faces. Infinite gap between all creation and God. But it also, especially in the Bible, has to do with God's infinite hatred for sin, His separation from all evil. Habakkuk 1:13: God's eyes are too pure to look on evil, he cannot tolerate wrong. It says in 1 John 1:5, “this is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in Him, there's no darkness at all.” God hates evil. And he's passionate about that. He's a passionate being and we who are created in His image, we have emotions because He had them first. Now His are pure and perfect, ours are not. But God is a passionate being and He hates all forms of evil with a fiery passion.
Listen, Isaiah 30:27 and 28. It says there, "Behold, the name of the Lord comes from afar with burning anger and dense clouds of smoke. His lips are full of wrath, His tongue is a consuming fire, His breath is like a rushing torrent, rising up to the neck. He shakes the nations in the sieve of destruction." That's our God. And the Bible asserts the universality of sin. There is no one righteous, not even one. Romans 3:9-12: "There's no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away. They've together become worthless. There's no one who does good, not even one." The Bible tells us the wages of sin is death, eternal separation from God, not merely physical death but the second death in the lake of fire. The Bible teaches this. "The soul who sins shall die," Ezekiel 18:4.
Now, in our text today, the wrath of God is expressed in curse language, that's why we're even talking about wrath today, it has to do with curse. Look at verse 10 of Galatians 3, Galatians 3:10, it says there, "All who rely on observing the law are under a curse. For it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in this book of the Law.'" Now, in the old covenant, the curse of God meant that He was actively opposing you in your life. He was fighting against what you were doing on Earth in the old covenant. That's what the curse meant. God was fighting you, He was opposed to you. He was against your prosperity, He was against your happiness, against your health, against your efforts, what you were trying to do. That's what the curse means. So we have this in Deuteronomy 28:15-19. "If you do not obey the Lord, your God, and if you do not carefully follow all His commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come upon you and overtake you. You will be cursed in the city and cursed in the country. Your basket and your kneading trough will be cursed. The fruit of your womb will be cursed and the crops of your land. And the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks. You'll be cursed when you come in and cursed when you go out." It actually goes on many verses beyond that.
Now, Galatians 3:10 says that the curse comes on those who do not continually obey everything written in the law. So it's all the law, all the time, or you get cursed. That's what the law does. Now, the Old Testament curses, those earthbound curses that I was talking about, they were real curses. They actually happened, things actually occurred physically to the Jews. But they were just symbolic of a far greater curse that's yet to come, far greater curse that's yet to come.
The Bible is filled with the doctrine of the wrath of God. The past wrath of God, the present wrath of God, and the future wrath of God. In the past, we have the flood of Noah in which every living thing that had the breath of life in its nostrils perished except what was on the ark. We have Sodom and Gomorrah in which God rained down fiery sulfur, "from the Lord out of the heavens," it specifically says in Genesis 19. And the next day, Abraham looked out over the plains where Sodom and Gomorrah had been just the day before, teeming cities, and there was nothing but dense smoke rising from the plain. These are pictures of the judgment and wrath of God, the past wrath of God. The Bible also asserts the doctrine of God's present wrath. It says in Psalms 7:11: "God is a righteous judge, a God who expresses His wrath every day." Every day. But listen, past and present wrath merely warn of the infinitely more consequential future wrath of God. Any wrath that happens on Earth is just a symbol of the future wrath yet to come.
And that wrath is going to be physical. It says in 2 Peter 3:10: "The heavens will disappear with a roar, the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the Earth and everything in it will be laid bare." That's the coming wrath of God. But even more terrifying than what God will do to creation is what He will do to His enemies, both angels and humans. And that is the doctrine of hell, the second death, the wrath of God displayed in hell. No one taught more about hell than Jesus. No one said more about the fire that is to come than Jesus. In the Sermon on the Mount, He said that, if you are angry in your heart with your brother, you're in danger of the fire of hell. If you look lustfully at a woman, you're in danger of the fire of hell. It's better for you to cut off your right hand or gouge out your right eye and escape going to hell than to have all of your physical equipment and be cast into the eternal fire, and He said plainly, "The fire does not go out, the warm never dies."
And he says in Matthew 25 "When the Son of Man comes in His glory and all the angels with Him, He will sit on His throne in heavenly glory and all of the nations will be gathered before Him and He will separate the people, one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats." And He's going to put the sheep, the believers on His right and the unregenerate on His left. And then he will say to those on His left, "Depart from me, you who are cursed." So there's that word 'curse.' "Depart from me, you are cursed into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels."
This is why the world needs the grace of God and Christ. This is why we need it. But the world sets aside the grace of God. The world sets aside the grace of God concerning this issue of the wrath of God by denying that He has a wrath. Mostly, non-Christians set it aside by not thinking about Him and not thinking about it. And they effectively deny that it even exists, that it's coming. Now, picture again those desperate souls leaning out of the upper floors of the World Trade Center on September 11th, and they're waving their white shirts and they're trying desperately for a savior because they can feel the heat, they can smell the smoke. They know it's real. But this fire, they can't see anything. They can't see the flames, they can't smell the smoke, it's as though it's not around, you have to believe or you don't think it's coming. So if you don't have any faith, there's nothing to escape.
They don't see the fire, they deny it. Zephaniah 1:12, "They are complacent, thinking the Lord would do nothing either good or bad." Even worse for me though is Christians, so-called. People in the Christian world who deny this doctrine of the wrath of God, who are embarrassed by it, who think it's unworthy of God to have any kind of wrath at all. They think of a higher God, a wrath-free God, an anger-free God. Recently, I was reading about how Keith Getty and Stuart Townend wrote one of the greatest hymns of our time. We're going to close this service by singing it, "In Christ Alone." And then this verse is what they write: "In Christ alone, Who took on flesh, fullness of God in helpless babe" [incarnation.] "This gift of love and righteousness, scorned by the ones he came to save. Till on that cross as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied. For every sin on Him was laid, here in the death of Christ I live." Well, a Presbyterian denomination, PCUSA, wanted to use that hymn in their hymnal but they just want to change it a little bit. So they contacted Getty and Townend and then asked if they could adjust the lyrics on that verse a little bit. From "Till on that cross as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied," to "Till on that cross as Jesus died, the love of God was magnified."
Why would they want to do that? Well, hymnal committee chair, Mary Louise Bringle said this, "The song has been removed from our contents list with deep regret over losing its otherwise poignant and powerful witness. The view on the committee is that the cross is primarily about God's need to assuage God's anger, that if we have that view, it would have a negative effect on the hymnal's ability to form the faith of coming generations." Well, that's very mild, even worse, is Anglican priest Bosco Peters, what he said, "The understanding is that God the Father was angry at us in our sinfulness and that God took out His rage on Christ instead of on us and this now enables God the Father to love us. This understanding is heresy. God doesn't have anger management issues." No, he doesn't. Our God is slow to anger, He doesn't lash out quickly, He never has to regret anything He does and He will not regret the smoke of their torment rising forever and ever. He's not embarrassed about it, He's warned us about it. No, He doesn't have anger management issues but He has anger, He has wrath, and that's why we need the grace of God and we must not set aside the grace of God by denying the wrath of God. Secondly, the only way the grace of God comes into the world is the cross of Christ.
II. The Only Way the Grace of God Comes to the World: The Cross of Christ
Look again at 2:21, "I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, then Christ died for nothing." Christ is the only way that the grace of God comes to this world. Trying to save ourselves by law would be to set aside the grace of God. There is no other way for sinners to be made righteous, do you see how foolish the world is in getting angry about Christ being the only way to be saved? Picture again those poor souls on the upper floors of the World Trade Center, picture this time though an incredibly heroic and courageous rescuer descending perhaps from a rope ladder, hanging from a helicopter, they managed to get close enough to reach out to one of these folks that's waving the white shirt and saying, "Here, I've got you, come on" and the guy recoiling in anger and says, "I want multiple options to get off this floor and I'm not going out until there are many ways for me to get off this burning floor."
I think that's how this must look to the holy angels in heaven, as they look down amazed that anyone would not believe in Christ, amazed that we would want multiple ways to get off the burning floor; how foolish. Now, the incarnation itself, the coming of God into the world proved right away we could not save ourselves, just the incarnation, that's why He came. Isaiah 59:15-16: "The Lord looked and was displeased that there was no justice," no righteousness. He saw that there was no one. He was appalled that there was no one to intervene so His own arm worked salvation for Him and His own righteousness sustained Him. God looked at the human race, no saviors there, none. So He entered the world Himself. Isaiah 59:15-16. So it's poignant at the birth of Christ, but see, even more poignant at the death of Christ and that's where our verse takes us. "I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, then Christ died for nothing." This is the very issue that Jesus was settling as He wrestled in prayer in Gethsemane, wasn't it? Didn't he go to Gethsemane, fall on His face before God and sweating great drops of blood, He cried out to his Abba Father, He said, "Abba Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me, yet not as I will but as you will?" So Father, is it possible? Is there any other way?
The answer is implied, not openly stated because he goes back a second time and says, "My Father, if it is not possible, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may Your will be done." "No, my Son, there is no other way. No other way." Settled by Jesus in Gethsemane, there is no other way. Christ alone is the incarnate Son of God. He alone died under the wrath of God. He alone satisfied the just penalty for our sins, for the wages in His death. And Christ alone rose from the dead, vindicating sinners like you and me. Christ alone is the Savior. Even more plainly, Jesus became a curse for us. Look at verse 13 of Galatians 3: "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, by becoming a curse for us. For it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.'" Now, this is amazing, not just Jesus was cursed for us, but Jesus became a curse for us. I meditated on this a long time.
It's similar to the grammar that we have in another exclusivity verse, John 14:6: Jesus said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." Do you hear what Jesus said there? Let's hear it on the middle one. "I am the truth." Not merely "I speak the truth" or "I embrace the truth," or "I exemplify the truth." We should all speak the truth. We should all embrace the truth. We should all exemplify the truth. And we may, by the blood of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, we can. But Jesus is the only one who can say these words, "I am the truth." "I am the truth. I am the distilled essence of all truth there is in the universe. All roads of truth lead to me. I am the truth." Alright, now take that and bring it to Galatians 3:13: "I am the curse. I am the distilled essence of curse. All curse for the people of God, all curse leads to this one place, the curse of the cross." And go even deeper, what does God curse but that which He hates? The curse of God is the hatred of God. It's God's opposition, it's ground zero of the infinite nuclear strike of God's holy wrath.
Christ on the cross was the very essence of everything that God has ever hated or ever would hate, while at the same time being His infinitely beloved Son. It's a mystery we will never be able to understand, but this is the mystery of the substitutionary atonement of Jesus. Jesus was the distilled essence of everything God hates. Sin is utterly disgusting, it's repulsive to God. He hates it with all of His heart. Think of the most repulsive sinner you've ever heard of that later came to faith in Christ. Think of their disgusting actions, how repulsive they are to you.
Corrie ten Boom talked about how difficult it was for her to shake the hand of an SS guard that she had known in the concentration camp, how hard that was for her. She was repulsed by what this man had done, the way that he tortured, and even killed, innocent people in the concentration camp. She was repulsed, but let me tell you something: Her sense of justice and repulsion is like a flickering candle compared to the sun, the raging sun of God's repulsion. God is far more repulsed at what that SS guard did than Corrie ten Boom.
I heard another story years ago, and I've never been able to find it since, but it had to do with a man that Charles Spurgeon led to faith in Christ. This man was an alcoholic, he was addicted to gin. He drank all of his family's money, all of it, for food, clothing, everything, including for medicine. It turned out that his young daughter had a serious but treatable illness, and this man drank the money for the medicine, so that she died. The neighbors were outraged at this story. She had nothing but threadbare rags, and they wanted her buried in a beautiful little dress. So they took an offering, and they took up a collection, and they bought a beautiful dress, and they buried... They clothed this little girl and put her... Put this beautiful clothed girl, this dead girl in a casket where she was to be... In which she was to be buried the next day. That night, this man broke into the undertaker's shop, opened the casket, took the dress off the dead body of his daughter, closed the casket, sold the dress for money, and drank it. He later came to faith in Christ.
I have a hard time even telling that story. I picture my own kids. I picture just a father acting like that. What do you do with the repulsion, what do you do with the revulsion? Well I'll tell you what God did. He poured it out on Jesus, instead of on that man. So Jesus became in some sense, the kind of cesspool, the toxic waste dump of everything God ever hated in His elect, in His sheep. Everything He's ever hated in you and me, all of it in one place. And then He poured out the wrath, His just wrath on Jesus. Jesus became a curse for me, and for you. I can't... I almost can't put this into words. How could God perfectly hate and perfectly love Jesus at the same time?
But this is what's going on at the cross. A parallel verse, we've already heard it, 2 Corinthians 5:21, "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us." Just be sin. He was sin on the cross, so that "in Him, we might become the righteousness of God." Now meditate on this because of this substitution and this exchange, we have become by faith, in Christ, the very essence of everything God loves. We have become the righteousness of God in Christ. That's awesome, that's awesome! And Christ is the only way that that salvation can happen. He is the only way. God did not send His Son into the world to provide one of many paths to heaven. He didn't pour out His wrath on Jesus to provide one of many ways to reach heaven. It's because there was no other way. Now, the world sets aside the grace of God by denying the exclusivity of the cross. We are a weird people. We post-modern tolerance-loving people are just weird, and we think weird, especially on this exclusivity issue.
Stephen Prothero, a professor of religion at Boston University in 2010, wrote a book, God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World- and Why Their Differences Matter. This is what he said in his introduction, "It has been fashionable to affirm that all religions are beautiful and all are true. This claim is as odd as it is intriguing. No one argues that different economic systems or political regimes are one in the same. Capitalism and Socialism are so obviously at odds that their differences barely bear mentioning. The same goes for democracy and monarchy, yet scholars continue to claim that such different religions as Hinduism and Islam, Christianity and Judaism, by some", [I love this,] "some miracle of the imagination are essentially the same. And this view resounds in the echo chamber of popular culture. Not the least in Dan Brown's multi million dollar franchise The DaVinci Code." It's weird, they're not all the same, they can't be all the same.
The pastor of Watts Street Baptist Church right in our own town taught a number of years ago that spiritual truth is like an underwater river and Christianity is just one of many wells that we can use to get down to that water. Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, they're all equally valid ways of drinking that spiritual water. These folks say that it is arrogant for us to claim that Christianity is the only way. That makes no sense to me. Do you struggle with that? Arrogant. Listen, if I invented a new rootbeer in my shop and I came out and told you it is the greatest rootbeer that has ever been made. As a matter of fact, it's the greatest drink that's ever been offered to another human being, that would be arrogant. I didn't invent Christianity, I discovered it or actually, it discovered me. Christ discovered me. How is it arrogant for us to go as missionaries to the ends of the world to say there's only one way for humans to be saved? There's no arrogance here.
III. How the World Sets Aside the Grace of God: Self-Righteousness
Thirdly, how the world sets aside the grace of God and that is through self-righteousness. Look again in Galatians 2:21. "I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing." The number one way that the world sets aside the grace of God is by trying to save ourselves by our good works, by self-righteousness.
Self-Righteousness Option #1: Pagan Morality
So, the essence of legalism, this Judaizer legalism and all that, is the idea that present or future obedience to the law of God can cover or pay for a past disobedience. The more common way of talking about it is, "My good deeds outweigh my bad." So you've got a bunch of bad deeds, that means you didn't keep the law. Then you have some good deeds, you did keep the law and this can be used to pay for that. That's the basic transaction, the basic idea. So, what is the “law” if righteousness could be gained through the law? Well, Paul means immediately the law of Moses (and we'll get to that), but I want to give you three different levels of law that people use. First is basic pagan morality. The every day life sense of right and wrong. The Greek philosopher mentality. The Aristotle or Plato type of virtue and they define it, that kind of thing. Aristotle said it's the glorious mean, the average... You take outgoing energy, etcetera and the extreme version of that is rashness and the lack of it is cowardice, and the perfect mean right in the middle is courage. And he goes down, Aristotle does this in all these... And the perfect individual goes right down the center in all of these attributes, so he says.
The Japanese warrior code used Bushido and they had seven different attributes of virtue. Immanuel Kant had his. Benjamin Franklin, you can look up, he had 13 laws of morality that he tried to follow, 13. Like intemperance, temperance. Eat not to dullness, drink not to elevation. Silence, speak not only what may benefit yourself. Speak only what may benefit yourself or others, avoid trifling conversations. Order, let all your things have their places. Let each part of your business have its time. Etcetera, etcetera, yadda, yadda, yadda. Sorry, Ben Franklin, but there it is. Alright? So this is just common every day pagan morality.
So the average every day person that you'll meet in the office tomorrow who says to you, "I'm basically a good person," ask them what they mean by a “good person.” Take the word 'basically' out. I don't know what it means. I think it means, "I'm not a good person." I don't know. Or "I'm kinda a good person." But alright, on what basis? Well, I try... And they're going to lay out some sketch at the law that they've come up with. Okay, but this is setting aside the grace of God. Do you see it? They have invented their own morality, which they try to live up to but don't really. When they do live up to it, they boast about it, when they don't live up to it, they think they can pay for it by the times they do live up to their own moral schemes. And they're forgetting the central and most important command of God. "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, will all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength." And they never keep it anyway.
The second level of morality is religious morality. And again, that's man-originated as well, with some demonic help. And so the world has set up pagan religions, and they have their own rules and regulations, their own laws that they follow, and people feel good or don't feel good based on whether they keep their religious laws. Followers of Dagon had to avoid stepping on the threshold. Which was one of the funniest laws ever because the reason... Never mind, that's another story, another time. Followers of Moloch had to offer their children as a burnt offering to that demonic god. Followers of Buddha have to seek out enlightenment by following the Noble Eightfold Path. Followers of Allah and Mohammad have to embrace the five pillars of Islam. All of these false religions have their own laws, their own moral systems, but none of them come from God. So they have set aside the grace of God to establish these man-made religions. Concerning Moloch, God said through Jeremiah 7:31: "They have built the high places of Topheth in the valley of Ben Hinnom to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire- Something I did not command nor did it enter my mind." I didn't tell you to do these things. And so you can't use these laws to become righteous in my sight. Actually repugnant.
Now, some of the religious laws are the same as the Ten Commandments. They have to do with basic morality that Romans 2 says is written on their hearts anyway. But their consciences sometimes accuse them, sometimes defend them. They don't keep those moral laws. The highest level of laws, the one that I think Paul means here, and that's the law of God. "I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, then Christ died for nothing." This is talking about the perfect law of God that came down from Mt. Sinai, from God Himself. This is God's perfect standard of morality. And so it says in Roman 7:12: "So then the law is holy and the commandment is holy and righteous and good." But again, Galatians 3:10: "All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the book of the Law.'" All the law, all the time or you get cursed. And by the way, if you understand the sentence I'm speaking to you it's already too late. We've already violated it already. And so, therefore, Romans 4:15: "The law brings wrath." That's all. Not salvation.
The death of Christ, therefore, settles forever that no one could be made righteous in God's sight by the law. "I do not set aside the grace of God for if righteousness could be gained by the law, then Christ died for nothing." Now listen, if righteousness could've been gained by the law of God by keeping it, what God would've done from heaven is pointed to the law and said, "Human race, do this. Do this." And not send Jesus. And what would've happened if righteousness could be gained by the law? Some would gain it. They would be spiritual athletes who'd be climbing hand over hand, foot over foot, like this, making it to heaven by their own efforts. And God would have to listen to them for eternity, boasting on their achievements. And so God set it up that we would be saved only by grace. For it says in Ephesians 2:8-9: "For by grace are you saved through faith and this not out of or from yourself. It is the gift of God, not by works so that no one can boast."
IV. How the Grace of God Makes Sinners Righteous: Justification and the Spirit-Filled Life
Fourth. How the grace of God makes sinners righteous. Justification leading to the Spirit-filled life. Justification is plain. It's the gift of righteousness simply because God says so, simply because He declares you to be righteous in Jesus. All you have to do is hear this Gospel, repent, believe, and the full righteousness of Christ will be imputed, credited to you and you will be in God's sight as righteous as Jesus was in God's sight cursed on the cross. How beautiful is that? Oh, Thank God for His grace. Thank God for His grace. Thank God that you can stand before Him and say, "Though I was and still am a sinner, I am righteous in your sight through faith in Jesus. Thank you." So look at Galatian 2:16. It said very plainly how sinners are justified. “We know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we too had put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law, no one will be justified.” So justification by faith makes sinners positionally righteous in the sight of God. We have become the righteousness of God in Christ.
That leads to the promise of the Spirit. The Spirit was promised in the Old Testament. The Spirit Himself is a promise of future perfection. And so if you believe in Jesus, you're instantly given the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit. The Spirit comes and lives in you. Look at verse 14. "He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham"... Notice that word blessing. Not cursed now, blessing. "The blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit." And then the Spirit living inside us leads us to follow the perfect law of God, to love God with all our heart and love our neighbors ourselves, and all of the other commands He wants us to follow. He says, "This is the way. Walk in it." But we're not justified by that walk, we're justified by faith in Christ. The Spirit lives within us and by faith, we step, day after day, later it's going to say in Galatians 5, "Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit." Galatians 5:16, "Walk by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh." Galatians 5:18, "If you're led by the Spirit, you're not under law." We'll talk much more in the future, God-willing, about the Spirit-filled life.
What applications can we take from this? Well, I want to zero in on this one phrase, "Do not set aside the grace of God." Do not set it aside. First, if you are an unbeliever, you're a non-Christian, you came here today and God brought you here by His sovereign grace. I'm pleading with you, do not set aside the grace of God. There will be no other Savior. No one else has descended from heaven and is sticking out his hand to grab you and pull you off the burning floor. There is going to be no other Savior. He's the only one. Do not set aside the grace of God by thinking you can save yourself by your own works. Your good deeds do not outweigh your bad, they cannot pay for your bad, and they aren't even good. Come to Christ. Trust in Him and every day, say to Jesus, "Christ, you are my righteousness. You are my righteousness." Every day, say that Him.
Secondly, embrace and tremble at the idea of the coming wrath of God. It is coming. We don't smell the smoke, we don't see the flames or feel the heat of the flames, but if you believe the Word of God, there is a coming wrath. Jesus rescues us from the coming wrath. 1 Thessalonians 1:10. The universe is going to be incinerated. The elements will melt in the heat, it is coming. Worse than that, the enemies of God will be consumed forever and ever in fire. Fear, trembling, tremble at it, understand you were rescued from it if you're a Christian. If you're not yet a Christian, danger is hanging over you right now. For us as evangelists, let us be faithful to share in light of that coming wrath.
Thirdly, embrace and celebrate in the exclusivity of Christ. This is going to be assaulted over the next part of the century if the Lord doesn't tarry. It's just going to get hotter and hotter in the United States of America. We have to stand firm and not burn pinches of incense to other gods, as though Jesus is just one of many gods. We need to stand firm and say, "He is the only God. He is the only Savior. We worship Christ alone." We need to stand firm on that. We need to preach that salvation is found in no one else, "For there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved," Acts 4:12. And then let's preach that Gospel. There is no other Savior. And when people bring up Buddhism, Hinduism, and all that, think of the things we've talked about here in this message.
Fourthly, meditate on the concept that Christ became a curse for you. If you've been redeemed through faith in Christ, nothing you face in your life now or will ever face for the rest of eternity can be classified as curse. Nothing. Could be cancer, could be unemployment, could be severe pain, it could be all kinds of things but none of it is curse. Christ sucked curse out of your case and took it on Himself. God may discipline you for sin because He loves you. But there's an infinite difference between the discipline of a loving father and a curse of a wrath-filled God. Those are two different things.
Don't wait for the other shoe to drop. God has been good to you. He's going to keep being good to you. Nothing but good to you. Some Christians are like, "God's going to get me. I have been so blessed up to now but He's going to get me. He's going to get... " What do you mean by "get you?" "I know I'm not going to hell, but, yeah, this might happen." Look, anything that happens to you is a display of God's love. There is no curse coming for you if you're in Christ. We're done.
And fifth and finally, understand that there are two ways to live. You can live by trusting in your own morality through the law or you can live by faith in Christ's shed blood and the power of the Holy Spirit. Two ways to live, law versus grace. Flesh versus spirit, Holy Spirit. Okay, walk by the power of the Spirit and you will not gratify the deeds of the flesh.
Close with me in prayer. Father, we thank You for the things that we've learned in this very rich text. I pray that You would please strengthen each of us to understand the Word of God. We pray in Jesus' name, Amen.