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Godís kindness

Pastor Paul Matthews
Piney Creek Presbyterian Church

(8/2) It is easy to miss out on God's kindness when you think you have to do something to earn his favor. The question is "how are we acceptable to God?" How are we right with God? What must we do to know God's love? These concerns are as relevant for Christians as they are for those who are not.

When Paul wrote to the churches in Galatia (located where central Turkey is today) there were teachers in the church who promoted a performance basis for acceptance with God. Performance means that there is some work I must do or some set of laws I must adhere to in order to be worthy of God's acceptance. These teachers were Jews who had come to accept the death of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins but taught that to really be sure you knew God you must also adopt the Law of Moses and be circumcised (you must become a Jew).

They seemed to be sincere but Paul says they were wrong. They were confusing and distorting the message of Paul which had been passed on to him from Jesus himself. Paul first asserts his reliability and credentials in chapter 1:1: "Paul, an apostleósent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead".

Having established his authority, he immediately states the gospel message:

(1:3-4) " Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father." While 'grace and peace' can be understood as a common greeting, in the context of Paul's writings they mean much more than a simple and polite 'hello'. The gospel is a message of grace and peace. Grace means that God has done something for us that we do not deserve and cannot earn. Peace means in this context that when we trust God's provision of his son's sacrifice for our salvation that we now have peace with God. We are no longer in a broken relationship with him.

Then Paul says that the gospel is a message from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. What is the message about? It is about God's gift of himself for our sins. It is his will and work to rescue us from sin and its power over us. What sort of rescue is this? It is not a matter of his instructions to us but to save us from sin and eternal death. You can only rescue someone who is lost, in trouble, without help, and they know it; they see their need and their helplessness. Yes, Jesus and the word of God teach us. But deeper than the instruction is the rescue. We are unable to save ourselves. But Jesus is able and willing, and he has accomplished it.

How did Jesus rescue us? by giving himself for our sins. He was our substitute, our atonement (the just punishment that we deserved he took on our behalf). He took our sin as well on himself. He did everything that was necessary to accomplish and complete our salvation. His death covers our sin; his resurrection gives new life.

Paul goes on in his letter to explain that the message of the good news of Jesus means that the performance of Jesus on our behalf is the basis of our acceptance with God. It is his life, suffering, death on our behalf that merit our acceptance by and with God.

Galatians tells us that we must distinguish between two different "gospels". The distorted gospel tells us that our efforts count. We must do something to be or become acceptable to God. Paul is saying that this 'gospel' is really no gospel at all (Galatians 1:7). To believe this message is to deny the true gospel and to desert and lose Christ. Paul was concerned both the accuracy of the message as well as the spiritual safety of the people in the church.

The teachers who were contradicting Paul's message were actually adding something to the message. They were saying that the death of Jesus is not enough. Yes, what he did was good and necessary, but there is more. There is something we must do too. For them it was the necessity of keeping the law of Moses and becoming a Jew. For us today it might not be the requirement of adding the Law of Moses but of adding any religious tradition or other obligation that is considered necessary to truly be a child of God. It might be a dress code or a cultural expectation such as 'no smokers or drinkers accepted here'.

The message being promoted in the Galatian church added something to God's gift. It did not deny the gift but said that receiving the gift was not enough; we must also do something of our own efforts to know God. Any addition to God's provision as the basis of our acceptance by him is a denial of what is sufficient and necessary to know God's love and forgiveness.

In contrast, the good news is all about God's gift to us as sinners. When we accept and trust the true gospel we find freedom, acceptance and new strength. We become free from the control and consequences of sin. We become free to be all that God has intended for us to be. We embrace God's acceptance of us without any condition or performance or change or efforts or repentance on our part. And he gives us his own Spirit to enable us to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and to change in a way that reflects his own character and purposes.

For the Christian this means that my confidence and assurance of safety and peace with God is based not on anything I do but fully and wholly on what Jesus Christ has done for me. The gospel is not only a message that can save me, it is a message that offers me comfort every step of my journey. I am not only saved by faith, I live by faith. Faith means that I trust God, that I depend on God, that I believe in God. Faith means that I am not relying on any efforts of my own to be pleasing to God. God is pleased with me because of his unconditional love offered in his Son Jesus Christ. My love for God, my obedience to his will is always and only because of his prior love for me

Yes, even when I do wrong, when I fail God or hurt someone I am not out of fellowship with God. There is nothing I need to do to get back in God's favor. I am never out of his favor. I simply admit my wrong, express sorrow over my wrong or injury, ask God to change my heart and actions, and confess my fault to one who I have offended. But I don't do any of these things to restore my relationship with God. He never disowns his children. My repentance is not an effort to become acceptable to God or to be re-accepted by him but a response of gratitude for the grace that God has shown to me.

Some express concern that such a view of acceptance leads to a life of license, that it does not matter what I do or how I live, that I am ok with God. Such a view shows a misunderstanding of God's gracious gospel. If I truly experience God's love and forgiveness on his terms than I will have a new desire and motivation to want to love him, to love my neighbor and to do his will and not my own. His grace is free, but not cheap. He paid the price in full for my redemption and rescue, and I become thankful and experience a new desire to follow him.

The gospel message has benefit both for the seeker and for the saved. As Tim Keller says " what is this gospel? that we are more sinful than we could imagine, yet more loved and accepted than we could ever hope for! This message helps motivate us both in coming to Christ and in living for Christ. We never outlive the comfort of the good news.

Piney Creek Presbyterian Church is located between Taneytown and Harney on Harney Rd. To learn more visit www.pineycreekchurch.org

Read other thoughtful writings by Pastor Paul Matthews