Home Media Sermons by Pastor Nicki Coertze Series 6. Experiencing the power of the cross . No 01:- Introduction (Living to die, or dying to live?)

. No 01:- Introduction (Living to die, or dying to live?)

 

ARE YOU LIVING TO DIE OR DYING TO LIVE?


Galatians 2:15-21 (ESV) 15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. 17 But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! 18 For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. 19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.”

Introduction.

The series that we are embarking on now is maybe one of the most critical we can do in the life of Logos. I have entitled it “dying to live’, which is a catchy title. I could have called it ‘the centrality of the cross in the life of the believer’. My prayer is that by the time we are through with this series that each one of you will be able to say: ‘I am dyyying to live’. But I do not mean that like ‘I am dying for a Coke, or an Ice Cream’. We can sometimes get confused with these concepts and use them very loosely. I remember seeing a picture of the burial of Elvis Presley with the procession coming past with all the Cadillacs and then the body of Elvis in a copper coffin. A girl was standing against a lamp post observing all this wealth, and they added this caption to her mouth: “Wow, that’s living!” No wonder they say, “Elvis is dead, long live Elvis”.

Now, next week we will get to more critical sermons in this series, but today I want to start with the text before us. People mostly know verse 20 very well, but ignore the rest from this quite complicated section, but we need to study it in context if we want to arrive at and understand why Paul says in verse 21 which says: I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” Christ died for a purpose, and that purpose is that I can say with Paul in verse 20: I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Let me give you some background to the text before us.

This section is written in a context where Paul was rebuking Peter. A situation developed where Peter normally ate with the gentiles, and obviously he ate what the gentiles ate, suddenly upon the arrival of some Jews he cut himself off from the Gentile Christians and ate with the Jews according to their dietary laws. Even Barnabas joined Peter in this unwise activity. This activity did major damage to the gospel and what the gospel says, because suddenly it put law, legalism and tradition in the spotlight as spiritual necessary activities. So, in a sense Peter sold the freedom that they had in Jesus Christ for bondage to the law and this in itself would nullify why Jesus died.

Today my desire through this complicated text is that you will come to some understanding of just what the cross of Jesus Christ means to us on a daily basis. Unless we start to understand the topic in context, even though the context is difficult we will never understand what it is to say that ‘I am crucified with Christ’. Our crucifixion with Christ and the implications thereof is going to become critical in the sermons to come.

So, in the preceding verses Paul rebukes Peter for his behaviour and what the behaviour did to the message of the cross. That is why – when we put any new believer under legalism, we nullify the power of the cross because the gospel then becomes Christ Plus instead of Christ alone. Paul now continuous to tell Peter a few things he should have known.

1. Justification is not by works of law.

In verses 15 and 16 Peter shows us how unified they were supposed to be in theology and in the experience of faith and, how inconsistent Peter was to imply by his behaviour that the Gentiles (or Jews!) have to keep the dietary laws in order to enjoy full fellowship with Christ. He says, 15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ…”

Now notice those words ‘yet we know’. Now Paul is referring to him and Peter and what they knew, but Christian, make no mistake, you and I also know that we are not justified by works of the law. Peter actually went against what he knew. Justification is by faith alone and in Christ alone. This is critical, because as we continue over the next few weeks we are going to see that Christ set us free from the law, so that we can fully trust in the completed work of Christ on the cross alone. So the message to all Christians is this: stop acting as if we have to do works for God in order to get right with God.’ Christian, write this down, memorise it, make it part of your heart: ‘no one can gain a just standing before God on the basis of efforts to keep laws’. On the contrary, God has taken the whole affair into his own hands, sent his own Son to die for our sins, and accomplished our justification, without our help, at Calvary, so if God could do it without our help on Calvary, God does not need our help now.  So Paul and Peter shared that theology and you and I share that theology with them, and any contrary behaviour is going against that knowledge. But not only did they share in the theology that justification is not by law.

2. Justification is by faith.

15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

Paul’s message to Peter is clear. Peter not only do we know that justification is not by law, we also know that it is by faith. It does not matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile or a member or adherent at Logos, we all have come to stake our lives on faith in Jesus Christ alone. We have trusted him. We have shown not just with our heads but with our hands and lives that if you try to work your way into heaven, you will fail, "because by works of the law no one will be justified." We all are well aware of the message of Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV) 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

We have utterly ceased to find any hope in ourselves at all as there is just no basis of justification in anything we can do. God has done it all in Christ on the cross. The implication is clear. Since we all share in this glorious theology that justification is not by works of law but by faith, let us not be found guilty of making Old Testament laws, or any legalism, or any traditions, or any personal opinions a basis for faith in Christ, and let us also not generate new laws by which we will bind new believers. As soon as we do that we nullify the cross. Now you immediately say to me, Pastor Nicki, is there therefore no standard, is there no Christian conduct worthy of the name Christian? Aha, that is where I want you to be, because the next batch of sermons is going to answer that. We are going to enjoy some glorious rich sermons together that will help us to stay with the cross and whatever the cross has dealt with and so that we do not nullify the power of the cross.  In the meantime, no law or legalism makes you more worthy of God.

This brings us to a critical question. So if we are not justified by works of law, and we are justified by faith, what if we do sin? Because if my justification is now in Christ alone, and by faith in him, and yet I do sin, are we then not able to say that Christ is the agent of sin. So this brings us to this critical question.

3. Is Christ a servant of Sin?

17 But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not!

Church family, it is of critical importance to see what Paul is admitting to and what he is denying, and what he means by sin. I have many times been accused of making a statement in a particular direction, and then people draw an implication to the opposite direction, but the implication is in their minds and not mine. It is utterly crucial that you see what Paul is admitting to and what he is denying.

So look carefully what Paul is saying. Paul is not saying that by endeavouring to be justified by Christ alone makes you a sinner, but that you will be ‘found to be sinners’ in somebody’s eyes. In this context it is clear. Paul simply says that as Jews, which he and Peter were, they did not have to stay with the Jewish dietary laws, and guess what the Judaisers, those who still want to keep the law will find them to be sinners and they might even be sinners before the law, but they are not under law.  Let me put it in another way so that we can understand. You want to live a life today that glorifies God, but you do not want to be bogged down by rules and regulations in the process, but you can write this down; somebody will call you a sinner. I have experienced it. I have enjoyed certain freedoms as a Christian but yet there are those who love the law and not even necessarily Biblical law, but their own laws, who are quick to tell you that you are a sinner. So Paul says, okay, if I follow Christ alone, I am going to break somebody’s laws, and you can call me a sinner, so the question is: “is Christ then a servant of sin?”

But he denies emphatically that this makes Christ a servant of sin. Why? because it is not sin to be a "sinner" in that sense. It is not sin to free yourself from the ceremonial Jewish laws in order to walk in love toward Gentile Christians. It is not sin to stop depending on works. Christ is not the servant or agent of sin; He is the agent of freedom, freedom for God, and freedom for love. That's Paul's answer to the Judaisers: Yes, Christ frees us from the works of law; but no, he is not thereby an agent of sin by doing that. Go back a little bit in Galatians and see what Paul says about this freedom. Galatians 2:4-5 (ESV) 4 Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery— 5 to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.”

So Paul says there, mark my words, there will always be those in the body of Christ who seek to bring Christians under law. People just have this knack of wanting to see others in slavery. They will look at your lifestyle and condemn it, they will look at your hobby or sport and condemn it, they will look at how you conduct your marriage and condemn it, they will look at how you raise and educate your children and condemn it, they will look at how you choose to spend your time alone with God and condemn it, they will look at what you do on the Lord’s day and condemn it, they will see that you are working as a woman and condemn it, they will look at how you dress and condemn it, they will look at how we enjoy our freedom as a congregation, the freedom of symbols, rituals and liturgies and they will condemn it. They will seek to put you under law again.

Paul says that they did not for one moment give in to these people, because if they did, the gospel of Christ and the message of the cross will be perverted. Paul says that there is a deep reason why he would not do that. We see it in verse 18: “For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor.” This begs a question:

4. What has Paul torn down?

Look at the word “for” in verse 18: For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor.”

The word ‘for’ here serves as a conjunction to tell you why Christ is not the agent or servant of sin. Now what had Paul torn down? It's clear, isn't it? Paul through his message and behaviour has torn down the law as a means of justification. Let me just say this, that even the Law of Moses did not teach justification by works. What Paul tore down was the way the Judaisers and the Pharisees used the law. They did not enjoy the freedom Paul enjoyed.

Let me illustrate the purpose of the law in the Old Testament. I like the way John Piper illustrated it, so let me explain it the way he did, and at the same time provide a sketch to understand it better. God gave the law originally as a ‘railway line’ to guide Israel's obedience. But, the engine that was supposed to pull a person along the track was the power of the Spirit by Grace alone. And the coupling between our car and the engine was faith, so that in the Old Testament, like the New Testament, salvation was by grace, through faith, along the track of obedience to the law in the Old Testament and sanctification in the New Testament.

The Jews did not like this doctrine for the same reason people in our day do not like the doctrine, as it only makes God look good and not me. I want people to pat me on the back and tell me what a good Christian I am. I have spent many years studying the laws of the game called Christianity and now I am playing by the rules and I need to be awarded for my performance. Is that not how we sometimes feel?

So what do we do? We do just that what the Jews did and what Peter did in this context. We take the railroad track and we lift it up on one end, lean it against the door of heaven, and turn it into a ladder to climb. This is the essence of legalism: Making the law into a long list of steps which we use to demonstrate our moral fitness to attain heaven. While the track is flat on the ground, some of the ceremonial laws or rungs holding the track together could be pulled out from under the rails without ruining the track. But as a ladder, every rung is crucial, or you may not be able to climb to the next.

That is the ladder that Paul tore down. He tore down the legalistic misuse of the law, and now he says that “if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor.”

So the lesson is this. If Christ frees you from law and causes you to fully trust in Him alone for your salvation instead of trusting in your own works and law, when you are accused of sin in the process, Christ is not the agent of sin. Sin is not those rules that you broke. The real sin is taking that railway line and elevating it to a ladder through which you are trying to reach heaven.  The transgression against God is to presume that you can climb your way up a ladder of morality into his favour.

Paul explains it in a bit more detail in verse 19: 19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God.” Now when I say that Paul gives us the same in a bit more detail, what Paul is saying here is this, if you must die to the law in order to live to God, then clearly it is a transgression to try to build the law again. Church family listen carefully, as soon as you are trying to earn your way to God by works of law, you cannot have a close relation to God. The closer you try to get to God by works, the farther you drive Him from you.

There are two possibilities in religion: you can think of your ability, God's demand, and the ladder of law; or you can think of your inability, God's demand, and the free gift of justification by faith. Paul had learned through his own long experience with the law that in order to live in close communion with God and have his power, he had to simply give up on legalism and die. The old self that loves to boast in its ability to climb ladders must die. That is what is going to make the next batch of sermons so critical in this series. We then get to the key verse in our section that explains the essence of the Christian life. If you desire to achieve eternal life or heaven through your own efforts you are living to die, but if you trust in Christ alone you are dying to live. We see this in the next verse under the heading:

5. Life after death to the law.

20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Verse 20 spells out for us what this experience of death to law and life to God is like. What does it mean to be crucified with Christ?

Firstly, it means that the gruesome death of the all-glorious, innocent, loving Son of God on the cross for my sin is the most radical indictment of my hopeless condition imaginable. The crucifixion of Jesus is the open display of my hell bound nature.

Secondly, when I see this and believe that he really died for me, then my old proud self which loves to display its power by climbing ladders of morality and intellect and beauty and daring dies. Self-reliance and self-confidence cannot live at the foot of the cross. Therefore, when Christ died, I died. This will be the crux of the next few sermons, when Christ died, I died.

What then remains? This is glorious and this is the triumph song of every believer who has died to the law and every works and personal endeavour. Because the logical question is this, now that you are not trying to get there anymore by your own efforts, how in the world do you think you are going to get there? Then Paul comes with this glorious answer.

Firstly, "Christ lives in me." Christ remains. He rose from the dead, and he took over where the life of pride and self-direction had died. We all must memorise the words of Paul in Colossians 1:27 (ESV) “27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” The Christian life is Christ in me. I love the way John Piper put it. He says “A Christian is a person who has died with Christ, whose stiff neck has been broken, whose brazen forehead has been shattered, whose stony heart has been crushed, whose pride has been slain, and whose life is now mastered by Jesus Christ." “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” So firstly, Christ lives in me. But there is more.

Secondly: “the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” So even though I no longer live, but Christ lives in me, Paul continuous to say, but okay, let’s agree, we do still live, “the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Now again this becomes key for the sermons ahead, and that is why I have to preach this text today.

So there are two sides to this coin. It is no longer an “old I" who craves self-reliance or self-confidence or self-direction or self-exaltation, trying to stack up the railway tracks like a ladder to heaven. My friend if you could do that you will always be one ladder short. The “new I" looks away from self and trusts in the Son of God, whose love and power was proved at Calvary. From the moment you wake in the morning till the moment you fall asleep at night, the “new I" of faith despairs of itself and looks to Christ for protection and the motivation, courage, direction, and enablement to walk in joy and peace and righteousness. What a great way to live!

Summary.

So in closing, why is it so important to Paul, why is he not willing to trust in the law, why is he not willing to put aside his freedom and to embrace some works and efforts to please God, and to please the law keepers and to still arrive at the gates of glory? Paul is categorically clear in verse 21: 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” Any attempt to go back to law instead of trusting in Christ alone, in Grace alone and in Faith alone will by implication mean that the death of Christ was futile, unnecessary and a big mistake by God. To go back to our earlier illustration, do not destroy the locomotive that will take you to glory.

So from next week we are going to see just what the death of Christ and the cross of Christ mean to us as believers. So let’s join Paul as we take our stand beneath the cross of Jesus, and as we refuse to nullify grace. So do not miss next week as we begin to study Paul’s teaching on the significance of the death of Christ for us who are alive today.

Amen.

Logos Community Church: - 10 March 2013