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Mosaic Spokane

God's Living Will

God’s Living Will

Freedom Series in Galatians

Galatians 1:1-9

May 17, 2015

 

How many of you have ever flown in an airplane?  And I see that you’ve all lived to tell about it, right? J 

Fact is, air travel is one of the safest forms of transportation in…and outside…the world. Last year, an MIT statistics professor determined that the death risk for passengers of commercial airlines is one in 45 million flights. According to The New York Times, a traveler could fly every day for 123,000 years and still be safe.

Here are some of the stats.

  1. Odds of dying as a car occupant: 1 in 415
  2. Odds of dying as a pedestrian: 1 in 749
  3. Odds of dying as a motorcyclist: 1 in 907  (But they are only 1% of vehicles on the road and account for 20% of the fatalities.)
  4. Odds of dying as a pedal cyclist: 1 in 4,982
  5. Passenger trains have a fatality rate of 0.06 per 100 million passenger miles.
  6. Commercial buses have a fatality rate of 0.05 per 100 million passenger miles.
  7. Scheduled airlines have a death rate of 0.003 fatalities per 100 million passenger miles.

You have a 1-in-45 million chance of dying on an airplane. You’re more likely to get attacked by a shark, struck by lightning, become a billionaire or become President of this great nation than you are to become an airplane fatality.

Despite those facts, there have still been cases where simple miscalculations in vectors for flights have had catastrophic consequences. 

I remember the day, September 1, 1983, when Korean Air Lines Flight 007 on a flight from New York City to Seoul via Anchorage, was shot down by a Soviet military fighter in the Sea of Japan. All 269 passengers and crew aboard were killed.  The aircraft was in route from Anchorage to Seoul when it flew through prohibited Soviet airspace.  Just 10 minutes after take-off, KAL 007, flying on a heading of 245 degrees, began to deviate to the right (north) of its assigned route and continued to fly on this constant heading for the next five and a half hours.  The deviation in flight path was probably caused by the aircraft’s autopilot system operating in the wrong mode.  But a slight error at the beginning which was never corrected resulted in the unnecessary deaths of 269 people. 

A similar navigational error resulted in an Air New Zealand crash in 1979 at the South Pole. Flight 901 was a scheduled 

Antarctic sightseeing flight that operated between 1977 and 1979.

The flight normally left Auckland Airport in the morning and spent a few hours flying over the Antarctic continent, before returning to Auckland in the evening via Christchurch.

On 28 November 1979, the McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30, flew into Mount Erebus on Ross Island, Antarctica, killing all 237 passengers and 20 crew on board.  The accident was caused by a correction made to the coordinates of the flight path the night before the disaster, coupled with a failure to inform the flight crew of the change, with the result that the aircraft, instead of being directed by computer down McMurdo Sound (as the crew assumed), was re-routed into the path of Mount Erebus. 

So now, who’s ready to book that next flight?  

We shudder at the thought of such a small miscalculation having such catastrophic results.  The same holds true when it comes to the Gospel of Christ.  In fact, the stakes are far higher and the disasters are far more catastrophic when people deviate from the gospel of grace that God has so carefully put into play for mankind.  Would that we felt the same kind of aversion to deviations from the true Gospel

We’re starting today into a new series in Paul’s letter to the Galatian churches.  Galatians is probably the first letter Paul ever wrote to any churches in the 1st century.  It comes at the beginning of 21 centuries of spiritual trajectory for the church of Jesus Christ.  Which may explain why Paul was so adamant that the early church “get it right” when it came to the gospel.  He knew that if the church began to deviate from the true and accurate flight path God had laid out about the gospel, there would be untold wreckage and misery the farther the church strayed from the truth. 

What is true over 2,000 miles of flight…or over 2,000 years of history…can also be true over 2 months or 2 years or 2 decades of personal experience with God.  So many of God’s children start their journeys in the right place but then, little by little, drift from the course Christ set in the Gospel of grace. 

            This simple fact should cause many of us who have known Christ for many years to be the most alert to danger.  Depending upon the kind of church you were a part of early on in your spiritual journey or the kind of person who discipled you when you were a young believer, it is possible that the older you are in Christ, the farther you have grown from Christ. 

            This has been a curious observation I’ve made through my years in church-based ministry.  Those saints who, in my opinion, should be most like Christ in how they handle people and life, are sometimes very unlike Him in their dealings with others.  Those who have amassed vast quantities of biblical knowledge are sometimes the saints who are most devoid of Christ-like character and grace. 

Recognizing that danger, Paul writes the book of Galatians to a bunch of churches in the region of Galatia in the ancient world.  Having not long ago preached the gospel to these folks, Paul is watching the drift take hold.  He’s seeing the disaster this will mean for countless millions of people.  So he uses some pretty strong vocabulary and tone with people he cares deeply about. 

PRAY

CONNECT:  Before we look at chapter 1, verse, 1, turn to some non-family member around you and introduce yourself to them by stating some role you have in life.

EX:  “Hello, I’m John and I’m…a father of 6 kids…OR a part-time professor at Moody…OR a huckleberry addict! 

Let’s read the first verse of Galatians 1.

Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— 2 and all the brothers who are with me,

Q:  When you get the mail every day, what do you do first? 

How many of you set it in a pile and just open it in the order it was delivered in your box? 

How many of you thumb through it briefly, looking to see WHO each letter is from and probably separating out the personal letters from the junk mail?  J

            Why is that?  It matters whether your mail is from the collection agency or a close family member.  It matters whether it’s your sweetheart or your bank statement.  In fact, it makes all the difference WHO the sender of a letter is as to WHAT you are going to do with it, right?

  • Do you treat an advertisement mailer from Safeway different from a notice by the IRS stamped “FINAL NOTICE”?
  • Would you be more inclined to open a hand-written letter from Mayor Condon than a bulk mail, computer-generated notice from a used car lot?

Paul’s position and his commission made a difference to his readers.  He was the spiritual father of many of them.  He was responsible for the most momentous change to have ever hit their lives—their introduction to the love and grace of God in Jesus Christ. 

            Paul used the title “Apostle” or literally “sent-one” as his identity.  He didn’t use his doctoral title of Pharisee OR his ethnic title of a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin OR his business title of tent-maker extraordinaire.  He picked “apostle.” 

            And he isn’t any old “sent one” or ambassador representing some city hall or even state governor.  He reminded his spiritual children that this wasn’t a calling he chose; it was a commissioning the GOD of the universe gave him.  It was a calling the resurrected Lord Jesus gave him. 

APP:  That should make a massive difference in how we handle this letter.  Paul is clearly stating that the message of this letter isn’t one based on his own authority.  He’s just delivering the mail!  He’s just the postman there by God’s authority to give God’s message to God’s people.  In the pre-smart phone days, this was equivalent to seeing “GOD” pop up on your skype screen.  What do you do when the caller is God himself???

            There is NO mail or call or text or tweet that you and I will ever receive in life that will come from anyone more important than these words of God spoken through His apostles.  That’s one of many reasons why we should pay far more attention to this book every week than we do to the mail or the newspaper or the internet news every day.  Authorship should challenge our readership.

APP:  In our relationships with each other, I wonder if God wouldn’t like us to get our identity, not from our humanly earned or given titles like “pastor” or “insurance executive” or “mom” but from our divine commissioning as “child of God” or “saint” or “servant of Christ”.  That’s one of the reasons I like wearing this orange ribbon:  it give me an opportunity to state that I am a fellow-follower of Jesus, a spiritual brother of those being martyred in the Middle East and Africa and N. Korea and Indonesia…and around the world. 

            Paul didn’t see himself just as the founding pastor of a few struggling congregations across Asia Minor.  His identity was not in what he accomplished in the visible realm but in what God declared him to be in the spiritual realm.

CONFESSION:  This is a whole lot easier said than done.  But somehow, we as God’s people must attach more of our sense of worth and significance to God’s call on our lives and commissioning for service than the stuff our culture is demanding we measure our worth by—our performance, our looks, our incomes, our jobs, our friends, our personalities or even our living quarters.  None of that mattered to Paul and none of it matters to Jesus either. 

Let’s keep moving.  Paul makes it clear WHO he is writing to.  It is God’s people who gather together city by city in the region of Galatia--

To the churches of Galatia:

To the original recipients of this letter, it would be like receiving a letter from, say, Billy Graham that started, “To the churches in Washington State….”  Who would he send it to?  Which city first?  Which church in that city? The very nature of this greeting tells us volumes about how the first-century church viewed itself and related to other churches.

Just what kind of relationship does sending one letter to a whole group of churches scattered across a region suppose?  What does it indicate about how they viewed themselves and how they interrelated? 

(Interconnectedness and mutual concern for each other’s welfare.)

  • They actually had relationship with each other.
  • They cared for each other.
  • There was a sense of unity with other followers of Jesus that transcended geography, culture, race and theological variations.

APP: How different would the Christians in, say, just Spokane look to a watching world if we actually had this kind of loving concern for each other in our daily dealings?  We have grown so accustomed to isolation, to separation and to independence that church leaders don’t even know the leaders/pastors of other churches 5 blocks away much less the needs and concerns of their people. 

            The simple fact that Paul wrote one letter to a whole region of churches tells us tons about how we should be connected to and caring about the rest of the body of Christ in our community and even region. 

  • That’s why prayer gatherings like we had 2 weeks ago that pull God’s people from all over the city together must be happening. I frankly look forward to the day we pack out Life Center and have to move to the INB Opera House…and then to the Spokane Veteran’s Arena…and then Joe Albi stadium.  It’s happened in other cities around the world and there have been major breakthroughs in the spiritual realm as a result.  Anybody want to join me in that prayer and dream???
  • That’s why when a church is experiencing difficulties, other leaders and churches should step in and help them rather than watching things implode from the sidelines.
  • That’s why we spend a significant part of what you give each Sunday to help other Christian works in our community that really need money and people. And I have to believe that is why God has moved on the hearts of many Christ-followers outside of Mosaic to help us minister downtown.

Now Paul gives a greeting that says a whole lot about how we can bless each other with a simply, audible, spoken prayer-blessing over each other.     

3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

            What we speak over others in the name of Jesus becomes both a blessing and a prayer.  Paul even ends this statement with “AMEN”.  It starts sounding like a simple greeting.  It ends sounding like a prayer.  It is both.

            Last week on Mother’s Day, we talked about Mary, the mother of Jesus, a women “full of grace”.  Do you remember what we saw in the Gospel of Luke about her that made her a woman God could pour his grace upon and into? 

  • Her submissive strength—submission to God’s word, to his tough assignments, to God himself in the midst of great personal pain and suffering.
  • Her willingness to love deeply and let go daily.

The grace and peace Paul talks about in this passage doesn’t come from us.  Where does it come from?  “…from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ….”  So clearly, we cannot impart grace or peace to others if we first haven’t received it from God the Father and Jesus the Son. 

            Paul goes on in vs. 4 to explain HOW we get that grace and peace in life.  “…from…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….”  Without God the Son “delivering” or literally “rescuing” (as some versions state it) us from our sins and from a life of sin, there will be no peace or grace in our lives.  Peace has to do with internal relational order and harmony.  And peace with God is THE most important relational harmony and order we human beings need. 

            This IS the gospel Paul is going to be calling the Galatians back to over and over in this book.  It is a Gospel that Jesus accomplished, not anything we have tried to do.  It is the death of Jesus for us on the cross so that we are rescued from the sin-debt we were in to God as well as being rescued from the sins that would normally dominate us if it were not for the gift of the Holy Spirit which Jesus offers us freely. 

APP:  Have you found peace with God through Jesus Christ?  It doesn’t come by trying to earn it.  It comes through accepting Jesus Christ and what he did for you through faith.  It comes by admitting you are a sinner in need of the Savior…and that Jesus is that Savior. (Call to faith in Jesus.)

APP:  So how do we become people who impart grace and peace to fellow Christ-followers? 

  • It must come first through embracing the Lord Jesus Christ who gave up his life for us.
  • But it will come daily as we join him in giving of ourselves so that others can be rescued from their sin-bondage and freed to live life in the Holy Spirit.

Just what would a church look like that actually lived out this blessing to one another?  Let me suggest a couple of things to prime your pump and then I want to hear what the Spirit is speaking to you what a grace-filled Mosaic would look like.

  • A grace-filled Mosaic (or any body of believers) will love people as they are. We won’t demand that people change before we’ll have a relationship with them.  We won’t single out particular traits they need to shed before we’ll shower them with God’s grace and goodness.  We give grace when we love people in their imperfections while inviting and showing them how to move more into the life of Christ in every area of life.
  • A grace-filled Mosaic will love the WHOLE body of Christ, not just the parts we naturally like or resonate with. Jesus doesn’t love us more than he loves someone in the church we are naturally repelled by.  He doesn’t love people “like us” (whatever that means) more than he loves the “difficult people” (whatever that means) around us.  When we pick and choose who we will love, whether doing so by simply choosing not to sit next to someone when we come together OR by choosing to attend only churches that are full of people just like us (whether age, educational level, dress, socio-economic level or any other form of “like-ness”), we are not allowing the grace of Christ to flow into or through us.

That’s why I believe Mosaic has more potential to experience God’s grace than a host of churches filled with people just like each other.

So what would a grace-&-peace filled Mosaic look like?  Maybe you’ve already seen it happen and can simply point to what you’ve already seen.  Maybe the Holy Spirit is impressing something new or additional on your mind right now.  (Ask for responses.)

Before we move on, notice that the suffering and sacrifice of Jesus Christ was “according to the will of our God and Father” (vs. 4).  You’ve probably heard some of the critics of Christianity attack God by saying, “Why would I ever want to believe in a God who allowed his Son to suffer such horrible torture and death?  He must be a very cruel, sadistic God to do that.” 

            To which God replies, “You have no understanding of love that willingly sacrifices and endures pain so that others might be saved.” 

God is not sadistic.  He gains no joy from the suffering of anyone be it his only begotten Son, Jesus, or any human being.  He is certainly not cruel because he sees and hates the suffering people inflict on each other. 

But in His wisdom he has chosen to create a world filled with beings who genuinely can reject or accept Him.  Those who reject him are those who go on to inflict horrible evil on others.  Those who genuinely accept Him are those who go on to sacrifice themselves for others so they can share the love of Christ with others. 

The death of Christ was not an unavoidable accident.  It was a chosen sacrifice for the benefit of every human being…even those who reject that sacrifice.  THAT is a God worth serving!

Now to the last part of this passage which speaks to the danger of spiritual drift I illustrated at the beginning. 

6) 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— 7) not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8) 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. 9) 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.

Notice in vs. 6 that the drift from the Gospel is really a drift from Christ.  “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ….”  This Gospel we have come to embrace is not just an intellectual set of truths; it is a Person.  It is a relationship that is grace-based, not based on some set of behaviors or disciplines or do’s and don’ts.  To make the Gospel into something it isn’t is to change in fundamental ways the way we know and relate to Jesus Christ. The Gospel has and always will be about our relationship with God, not our relationship with religious laws and traditions.

            Which brings us to something I hope all of us will be crystal clear on in the weeks to come.  Just what IS the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the clearest, simplest terms possible? 

  • What must BE IN the Gospel to truly be the Gospel?
  • What must NOT BE IN the Gospel to truly be the Gospel?

[Work in groups of 2-4.  Invite responses to both these questions.  See vss. 3-4.]

ILL:  Buying “Nike” running shoes in the Beijing Flea Market—5-6 floors of everything from watches to table cloths, art, jeans and junk.  Tried a pair on.  Did the obligatory haggling.  Brought them home, went running for 30 minutes… and immediately my shins and legs began to hurt like never before.  I took them off to hear something rattling in the “gel” heel.  I had definitely been duped. 

            Now, had I know what an authentic Nike running shoe really looked like, I wouldn’t have been fooled.  But not knowing the real deal, I fell for the false fake. 

The best protection against falling for a fake is to know the real.  The problem has always been that people have been content to have a minimal knowledge of what the Gospel of Christ really is rather than doing due diligence to make sure that we aren’t drifting from the truth. 

            We’ll learn a lot more about this in the weeks to come.  But for now, let me pose a closing question for a little self-examination.  What are the perversions, changes or alterations to the Gospel that we are most susceptible to in our day?

            Let me give you an example from this text.    8) 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. 9) 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.

            Twice Paul says that someone who twists the Gospel should be the objects of God’s wrath and condemnation. Just like minor deviations in flight paths for airliners can be catastrophic, so deviations from the truth of the Gospel call for strong responses. 

            To our non-judgmental ears trained to accept all truth claims as spiritually and morally equivalent, this is almost offensive.  After all, our culture is constantly telling us that we’re being arrogant to suppose that Jesus is the only way to make peace with God. We’re told we’re being “intolerant” to hold that Christianity is actually the truth and that other religion’s competing claims are false and destructive. 

            It is one thing to live in a diverse culture that honors freedom of religion.  It is quite another to believe that all truth claims are equally true or useful.  If we cannot bring ourselves to say that other religious claims that conflict with the Gospel of Christ are distortions of the truth, we will find departing from the true Gospel far too easy when the pressure really becomes intense in our culture to cave to the pluralism police. 

            So back to our parting question:  What are the perversions, changes or alterations to the Gospel that we are most susceptible to in our day?

Questions for Further Study & Discussion:

1.) Who are the people you allow to have spiritual authority in your life?  Why?  How did you choose them?  What checks and balances exist in your relationship with them that will keep you from drifting into possible error?  (Gal. 1:1-2)

2.) What kind of a relationship between God’s people from different locations does the opening of Galatians seem to invite or encourage (1:1-2)?

3.)  Hammer out a good working definition for “grace.”  Do the same for “peace.”  What does the context of Galatians 1:1-5 teach us about both grace and peace?  How have you experienced grace and/or peace in the body of Christ?  What are some of the primary enemies of God’s grace and peace in the church?  What might God want you to do to be a better conduit of God’s grace and peace to other followers of Christ?

4.) Gal. 1:6-9—Share your own personal journey/testimony into the grace of Christ with your group, family or friend.  What was your understanding of the gospel at that time?  What was your understanding of grace at that time and how did it relate to your salvation? 

5.)  Gal. 1:6-9 talks about changing the true Gospel to “a different gospel” that “distort[s] the gospel of Christ.”  Come up with the most basic definition of the true gospel that you can.  In other words, what must someone embrace in terms of Jesus Christ in order to hold to the true gospel?  In what ways do you see the gospel being distorted today by people who claim to know and preach the gospel?  How might it be distorted in our own church?  What should you do about that?

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