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Jun 07, 2015

The Balance Beam

Passage: Galatians 2:11-21

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Freedom

Keywords: balance, differences, division, faith, fear, grace, law, reconciliation, separation


The latter part of Galatians 2 looks at the confrontation Paul had with Peter in Antioch over the circumcision group, withholding fellowship from other believers, legalism, the place of the Mosaic Law in the church, etc. This passage has some very practical applications to the life of the church today as we seek to experience the real life of Christ in a divided world.


The Balance Beam

Freedom Series in Galatians

Galatians 2:11-21

June 7, 2015


INTRO:  Balance…it’s harder than it looks…especially if you’re a man!


Just in case you’re wondering, this video has nothing to do with Bruce Jenner.  This man is a coach who does this and other gymnastic spoofs as comedy…not tragedy! J

God told us long ago that balance in much of life is really a sign of wisdom.  Solomon in Ecclesiastes 7:18, while philosophizing about good and evil in this world, gave this counsel when he said, “Whoever fears God will avoid all extremes.”

Living life in balance doesn’t mean you play it safe.  Certainly no Olympic athlete ever “played it safe.”  But they did have to improve their balance to become Olympians. 

Living life in balance doesn’t mean you are timid or hesitant or satisfied with the status quo.  People who have trained themselves in balance usually must do so by doing the opposite—by throwing themselves into more training, more danger, more risk and more effort. 

We’re experiencing that even now in the life of Mosaic.  For a couple of years, God has been nudging us to step out of our comfortable nest here at Second Space and into the chaotic world “out there.”  He’s been calling us into developing more balance in ministry—balance that devotes more time and energy to growing in our understanding of God’s Word while growing in our living out of God’s work in our community. 

            But have you noticed how much easier it is to just stick to one side or the other—to just the Word of God OR just the work of God?  There are lots of churches who spend most of their time and effort just studying the Bible.  But they never seem to get around to really living it out in their community, to their neighbors.  Then there are lots of churches who just spend most of their time and energies doing “good things” in a community and never really get around to calling people to Christ and speaking the truths of God’s Word into the world. 

            My hope and prayer is that Mosaic will always be striving, working and passionately exercising better balance in our spiritual muscles of prayer, study of God’s Word, service, worship and ministry to a lost world.  Being both “doers and hearers” of God’s word is a real balancing act.

Today we are in one of those sections of God’s Word that requires real balance

So let’s begin our study today in Galatians 2:11ff.  Remember that the historical backdrop to this whole passage is the Early Church trying to get it right about the relationship of God’s law to God’s grace.  They are trying to get it right about sin and sanctification, about salvation and holiness, about God’s grace and our good living

            As we noticed last week, the culture to which Paul was writing here seemed to be coming from the opposite end of the law--grace spectrum from where most of us are today.  Whereas our culture is supposedly all about non-judgmentalism and anything-goes, his Jewish culture was all about keeping the law of Moses and personal discipline to the law.  Just as Christians in our culture must figure out what part of our lives are more in conformity to the culture rather than Christ, so with Paul and the early church.  It was the same challenge of balance; just mounting that beam from the other end. 

So to people wrestling with what was right when it came to keeping the O.T. Law as a N.T. believer, Paul writes these words.  Vs. 11--

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 

Let’s stop for a moment.  These are pretty tough words.  The relatively new Apostle Paul is taking on the traditionally revered Apostle Peter (Cephas).  Two of the most prominent church leaders are taking their doctrinal differences public.  Sounds like a typical church cat-fight, right?  J

            I think a lot more is happening and at stake here than the arguing of some obscure doctrinal difference.  First, the church is becoming divided due to the actions of its leaders.  Read the next verse (12-13):

For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13) And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.

            What was symptomatic of this division that was taking place in God’s family?  What life around the table looked like!

            Sharing meals, table fellowship, inviting people into your home and life was the thing Paul pointed to as symptomatic of a serious spiritual problem.  That, in itself, has a lot to say to our contemporary experience of church.  For far too many Christ-followers, they would notice little if any change to their weekly experience if you told them to “stop having coffee” or “stop hanging out” with people in the church who are culturally or educationally or socio-economicallydifferent” from you.  Too often what Paul saw as a symptom of spiritual illness we see as the prevailing status quo in the church. 

How many times have we pulled back from the differences in the body of Christ when Christ has been calling us to press in? 

That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t hang out with people we naturally gravitate towards.  But it does mean that if hanging out with those who are culturally or racially or economically or whatever other “ally” we can think of isn’t an important part of our experience, we’re probably settling for something in our experience that isn’t really the Gospel of Christ Jesus.  If our hearts aren’t being knit together with people very different from us by whatever cultural measure you use, then I think we can say that something is really amiss with our experience of Christ.

That’s why I LOVE doing church in the heart of the city.  There is no place in our city where there is more diversity in more ways than downtown.  And honestly, Mosaic is THE most diverse church I have ever experienced and perhaps one of the most diverse in this entire city.  When I think of how different my experience of God and His people would have been if we weren’t worshipping and working in the “cultural stew” of Spokane’s downtown, it makes me very grateful for what the past 8 years have brought.  And when I see other segments of Christ’s body in Spokane, be they here downtown or in the burbs, that seem oblivious to the importance of that kind of cultural cross-pollination, it makes me sad. 

APP:  This is one reason why we are having a picnic this afternoon.  This is why our brothers and sisters from Changing Lives that meets here in the afternoon are joining us today.  This is why we want everyone to grab someone here today and say, “I’d really like to share lunch with you and your family/friend/or, yes, even your dog!” J  It may be outside your comfort zone, but I can assure you it isn’t outside God’s. 

STORY:  Can I share something a little personal?  This past week, Daniel, who is living in S. California, texted to say that Helen, who used to be a part of Mosaic here and now lives about a mile from Daniel in Loma Linda, had been taken to the hospital.  She had symptoms of confusion and speech problems so I’m sure they thought it might be a stroke or something. 

So Daniel, good future-doc he is, went to visit her and see how she is doing.  As he sat with her for a few hours in the ER, she began to reminisce about her time here in Spokane, particularly one Thanksgiving meal she had shared several years ago with our family.  Daniel texted something like, “She’s making it sound like it was one of the happiest days of her life.” 

Helen and I, apart from our love of Jesus, have very little in common. 

  • I’m tall; she’s…really short.
  • I’m a white guy; she’s Chinese
  • She has lived through the horrors of war; I have never seen war.
  • I’m a man; she’s a woman.
  • I’ve got 6 kids; she has 1.
  • I’m married; she has no husband.
  • I’m not-so-old…O.K., “older”; she’s getting even ‘older’!

I could go on and on about the differences.  But when Daniel told me that, I thought to myself, “I’m SO glad I didn’t let all those differences stand in the way of knitting our hearts together in Christ.  I’m SO glad our family has embraced the Gospel enough to make room at our Thanksgiving table for people who aren’t much like us apart from Christ.”  And frankly, the Thanksgivings we’ve had that have included some people not very much like us have been the ones that I remember…not the dozens we’ve had with just our little clan.

APP:   So before we get all high and might looking down our noses at Peter for stepping back from eating with Gentiles, maybe it’s time to ask the Spirit to speak to us about how we might be doing just the same thing but for different cultural reasons.  And maybe it’s time to change some of the thinking that puts up barriers between us and others in the Body of Christ…for whatever reasons we may think we have. 

When Paul fought for the oneness of the Body of Christ, he wasn’t just signing on to some dusty doctrinal statement that said he “valued the oneness of the church.”  He wasn’t just quoting some part of Jesus prayer “that we might be one as Jesus and the Father are one.”  He was risking his very role as Apostle, his respectability in the Church.  He was risking future missionary support and present friendships in order to really fight for the experience of being “of one mind, united in thought and purpose” (I Cor. 1:10).

APPWhat are we willing to risk to experience that oneness in the body of Christ?  What will we risk to do that today…or next week…or this year?  What social constructs, social barriers will you and I choose to say “no” to so that we can say “yes” to other brothers and sisters Jesus holds just as dear in his heart as he holds you and me?  Or will we just keep reinforcing the godless and unrighteous social, religious, or economic divisions our culture values and promotes?

So verses 12-14 talk about how the behavior of a brother or sister in Christ can lead even good and godly people astray (like Barnabas and “the rest of the Jews” in Antioch).

But vss. 11 & 14 talk about how that behavior flowed from flawed beliefs. 

Vs. 14--But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

  • Bad belief will lead to bad behavior.
  • Poor theology will lead to impoverished practice.

That is why WHAT we believe about spiritual truth matters.  Chances are that if our belief system is flawed, so will be our behavior system.  That is why we as Evangelicals spend a good bit of time studying the Word of God, trying to renew our mind in Christ so that we can have confidence that what we’re actually living out is the heart of Christ. 

Before we take a deeper look at WHAT the flawed belief system Peter and other believers were succumbing to was, just note the WHY Paul tells us in this paragraph.

Vs. 12--For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 

            Discerning our motivation for certain wrong behaviors is often as important as figuring out the belief system behind our wrong behavior.  Peter’s wrong behavior towards non-Jewish Christ-followers was rooted in his “fear” of a certain group of people. 

ILL:  I, unfortunately, can identify with this kind of behavior.  I cultivated people-pleasing most of my growing up and early-to-middle adult years.  It’s only as I’ve gotten into close enough relationship with the “Pauls” of my life who weren’t afraid to speak truth about my people-pleasing motivations and behaviors that I’ve been able to address the motivations behind my madness.  J 

As I’ve mentioned before, growing up in a home where there was a fair amount of conflict, I took on the role of “peacemaker.”  I wrongly thought that a.) the conflict was somehow my responsibility to resolve even though it didn’t stem from my behavior, and b.) I had enough power…as a child and teenager…to influence and manage the conflict in our home.  Those wrong beliefs led to a lifestyle of trying to please everyone in a world where that is impossible… at least if you value truth and honesty.  J

Peter’s people-pleasing stemmed from some outright “fear” of a certain group of people who were, like him, Jewish.  I tend to believe that they were Jewish Christians who, though hanging out with James the brother of Jesus, were on the wrong track when it came to the relationship of God’s people under the New Covenant of faith in Jesus to God’s people, the Jews, who had been under the Old Covenant of the Mosaic Law (not our “Mosaic Fellowship” law, of course!  We don’t have one!).

Since these mistaken people associated with James came from Jerusalem, perhaps Peter, knowing he was going to return to Jerusalem someday, just didn’t want to risk losing a group of friends in a place that was his home.  Whatever the cause of his “fear”, Paul could see it was related to people.

APP:  This whole interchange ought to challenge us to be people who are at least occasionally assessing WHY we are doing what we are doing.  Fear can so easily become the reason we do or don’t do something when the only fear God calls us to have is of Him as God. 

As one of your church leaders, I’ve had to fight fear most of my life.  One of my biggest fears is of losing people from a ministry.  If we make this decision, who will disagree and leave?  If we don’t make this move, who will drift off?  The relocation we’re in right now has significantly surfaced my “fear of man” factor because it involves some very big, very different changes most churches aren’t ready to make.

  • Starting non-profits that enable us to reach into the lives of youth and adults through mentoring, job training, employment and more doesn’t even have a place at the table in most “church” ministries. But it’s a BIG part of our future right now.
  • Working with segments of our society that many people are afraid of—high risk youth, former felons, mentally or emotionally scarred people, people disillusioned with the church, people struggling with addictions—the very notion of spending time with people in those places scares most Christians in our culture right out of the inner city…and they take their children and grandchildren with them.
  • Networking with other ministries in ways that make their organizations look and function better…structuring much of our church experience around serving rather than being served.

APP:  So where are you fearing people in a way that is causing you to pull away from God’s best for you? 

  • Fear of singleness?
  • Fear of marriage?
  • Fear of failure?
  • Fear of risk?
  • Fear of conflict?
  • Fear of loss of comfort?
  • Fear of suffering?
  • Fear of loneliness?

Overcoming fear must start with identifying and naming it.  Then we can begin to off-load it onto God and press forward in changing what we believe that will eventually change how we behave.

Now let’s move on to the last section of this chapter, beginning with vs. 15.

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.

            Here Paul is writing from the first person plural perspective—“we”.  He’s speaking for all those Christ-followers who are of Jewish lineage and culture yet have embraced the Gospel of Christ.  He’s summarizing what every genuine Jewish Christ-follower knows…or their not really following Christ.

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….

Paul is simply saying that Jews, who have lived under the reality that their best efforts at keeping God’s law fail, know experientially that a person can’t be made right with Godby works of the law,”  by trying to keep the Law of Moses.  

God’s law is simply a reflection of God’s nature.  But our sin, our inability to keep God’s law, is simply a reflection of our nature—sinful.  The sooner someone acknowledges that, the sooner they will see that what they need is not more good effort or more stringent laws; what we need is someone who can change us from within, give us a new nature, one that longs for what God is and longs to live as He would live in this world.  Paul understood that Jesus Christ was the only being in the universe who could and had made peace with God for him.  So only by putting one’s faith in Jesus—by really believing in Christ through a faith that followed Christ—could anyone, Jew of Gentile, man or woman, slave or free, be “justified” or “declared right with God.”

            This, Paul recognizes, is the starting block that EVERY true seeker of God must settle into if they even want to enter the race of a reconciled life to God.  We could say that this singular belief IS the “new law” we must all acknowledge if we are to walk with God now and forever.  It doesn’t do away with the “race” of life God is still going to ask us to run.  But it surely is the “drug test” or “anti-doping test” everyone must pass. 

            People who think they must first clean up their life to make them acceptable to God are guilty of “doping”.

            People who think their sin is too much for Christ’s death are guilty of “doping”.

            People who think Jesus did a lot to reconcile them to God but they must add some of their own effort, right living and morality to the mix are guilty of “doping”. 

            Spiritual doping disqualifies us for the race. Adding anything, says Paul, that leads us to believe that we are made right (“justified”) with God by the things WE do, is spiritual “doping.”  His last statement in vs. 15 is crystal clear:  “…because by works of the law no one will be justified.”

            ILL:  How many of you have ever signed for a package?

Think of one of the people in your life closest, most loved and special to you.  It’s someone you love to spend time with, deeply respect and want to enjoy friendship with the rest of your life, if possible.  This could be someone still living or someone who has already passed away.  It’s the specialness of the relationship and the love you have shared that I want you to be reminded of in this relationship.

            Now, imagine further that this person passes away.  You attend the funeral.  You grieve their passing.  Now you miss their presence. 

            And then one day there is a knock at your door.  You open it to find the FedEx driver there with a package.  It’s got the return address from this very person who you’ve been missing.  Furthermore, it’s got stamped on the package, “Last Will & Testament.”  And further yet, the FedEx gal tells you that the only way you can have this package is if you personally sign for it, thereby accepting all the terms and conditions of the will inside. 

            You may hesitate and say, “Well, can’t I just read it first and then decide whether or not I will sign for it?” 

            “NOPE!” says the driver.  “The instructions were clear—this is a package you must accept by faith based on what you know (and love) about the one sending it to you.” 

            “Well I’d like to pay you $1,000 bucks instead of signing for the package.  Wait here while I go to the bank.  I’ll be right back.” 

            “NOPE!” says the driver.  “I can’t take anything for this.  It clearly states it’s a gift.  And even if you and I treat that $1,000 as a tip to me, the instructions say the contents won’t work for you.  (Maybe this will is on a thumb drive that only activates when you sign for the package.)”

            “The only way for you to get this package and find out what this person has left for you to enjoy is to have enough faith in them that you agree to this contract, this “covenant.”  So are you ready to sign?” 

Now I can understand being leery about signing for that “Last Will & Testament” IF you didn’t believe in the character or trustworthiness of this person you’re thinking of.  But if you really trust that person and believe that they wouldn’t do something that will intentionally mess with your life, you’re going to sign for that package.  You’re going to think, “YES! Where do I sign? This is going to get me reconnected to the life of a person I haven’t gotten enough of.  This is going to enable me in some way to reconnect with someone I really value and honor.  Where do I sign?”

            This is precisely the way God has always been dealing with people.  In the days before Jesus, being made right with God was by faith in what He had promised and asked.  Faith said, “Yes, God, I believe you when you promise this or ask that.”  And God said, “Good.  I’ll take that as if you had kept the entire law that reflects my nature…even though you haven’t.  I’ll take your faith and credit it to you as a perfect life…the life of my Only Begotten Son, Jesus.”

Now in terms of our balance beam opening illustration, this would be, say, your right arm and right leg.  Without opposing appendages, there simply is no way you’re going to be doing all the summersaults, lifts, turns, flips, etc.  I’ve never seen a one-armed gymnast in my life.  (Not to say it can’t be done.) 

            So Paul now rounds out this balance question of faith with vss. 17-21.  We’ll just read them and then I have a brief closing comment. 

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. 

            Paul is now balancing this truth of being made right with God through Jesus Christ with the reality that we’re not made perfect by that transaction.  We still continue to sin.  We’re still “found to be sinners.”  That reality doesn’t mean Christ is powerless against sin.  It doesn’t mean “Christ in us” has become a servant of sin. 

            Paul is here endeavoring to move from salvation to sanctification, from the start of the spiritual journey of faith to the working out of it.  He’s acknowledging that when we “rebuild what [we] tore down”…when we go back to the old life apart from Christ when we sin, it proves the WE are the “mess-ups”, the sinners, not Christ. 

Being made right with God through Jesus Christ doesn’t make us perfect in this life; it sets us on a path where we can choose every day to either build into a God-directed life or go back and “rebuild” what will never make us right with God, whether that is an attempt to wrongly win God’s approval through a moral or religious life OR whether it is running as hard and fast after sin as we ever did. 

ILL:  Ever tried to “rebuild what you tore down”…and done it wrong…again?  The reality is, we don’t “tear down” what is working.  You only need to rebuild something that isn’t working. 

This past year, I worked on putting another bathroom in a house Sandy and I eventually plan to move into when we downsize.  I gave a professional framer the measurements I wanted and had him frame in the door and bathroom.  It was early in the remodeling process. 

But when I actually got to working on the bathroom, putting in the right sized shower, I found that the door wasn’t in the right place.  It made the shower too small.  So, I had to completely rip out that framing for that wall and do it all over again.  The old framing wasn’t working.  I had to do some tearing down before I could really build up.  Thankfully I was able to learn from my earlier measurement mistakes and do it right the second time.

            But let’s pretend I hadn’t.  What if I had rebuilt the wall and replaced the door with the same bad measurements?  What sense would that have made?  NONE!

That’s what Paul is arguing.  It doesn’t make sense to rebuild the life of sin that wasn’t working and never will.  That’s not Christ’s fault.  It’s proof that we are still people who can choose sin, even after we have chosen Christ.

Paul goes on in vs. 19--

19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 

Paul is admitting that it was the Law Moses handed down in the Old Covenant with the Jews that made him realize he never could meet God’s absolute, holy, righteous moral standard.  That “law” made him aware of the terrible sin-trap he was in.  So when he saw and understood Jesus to be the solution and escape from that hopeless treadmill of trying to win God’s approval, he “died to the law”…he let go of that system so he could embrace Christ and really live “to God.” 

            Paul ends his line of thought here with this famous verse many of us have memorized

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.    

            To follow Jesus, to put your faith in Him, is to recognize that all you both have or haven’t been when it comes to your relationship with God got nailed to the cross.  Whether you feel and know you’re such a sinner that you will never be able to measure up to God’s nature… OR whether you have been trying to live a good moral or religious life in an attempt to win God’s favor, both those ways of trying to relate to God are over.  You now understand that it is only God’s loving sacrifice of himself on your behalf that will ever make you “right” with God. 

            And furthermore, this new life is one in which there has been this amazing change of heart—Christ now “live in me.”  Paul will go on to talk about HOW Christ does that…by the Holy Spirit.  And he’ll talk with us about what that actually looks like the more Christ takes charge and the less our sin and flesh has power. 

Paul acknowledges that we still “live in the flesh”.  We still have bodies and old natures and selfish drives.  But this journey that we have now begun by faith in the Son of God has become an experience in which we are learning to actually LIVE day to day in that same faith.  It is faith that trusts, submits to, embraces and causes us to live in “the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” 

ILL:  Going into one of the Wallace area mines 1977.  Rode a single shaft elevator 1-mile deep that was used to lift ore cars full of silver ore.  Down at the bottom of the mine, where the rock was 120 degrees, you could see the silver vein.  The vain was minded and the rock loaded into mining cars that were then pushed down a miniature railroad track to the lift, loaded on the lift and brought to the surface.  Those tracks were meant to lead every mining car to the lift.

            But what if the miners decided that those tracks actually looked like better ladders?  What if they decided instead of using the elevator they were going to turn them into ladders that they could use to carry the ore to the surface?  How functional would they have been?  NOT! 

            That is the argument Paul is making with regard to the Law of Moses.  That Law was the track God laid to lead to Christ.  Our sin had put us SO far under the surface of God’s holiness that there is no way in the world we could turn the Law of God into a ladder to God.  It wasn’t meant to take us to the surface.  For that we needed a wholly different provision… a spiritual “elevator” if you will…Christ himself, who alone can lift us to God.  And as He does…as we rise ever upward into the life and light of Christ, the air becomes fresher, the temperature cooler until that day when we burst forth into the blazing light of His very glory and presence.