Grace

Grace

Galatians 5.1, 13-25

Galatians is all about Grace.

This section of text is a new beginning. Paul moves the people from the Law to the freedom of pure grace. The Law is ultimately fulfilled as we live in the pneuma Spirit of Jesus to the purpose of loving God and neighbor robustly through the profound grace of Almighty God.

We have talked about the stages of grace all throughout this sermon series on Galatians. I have heard grace explained a number of times with an illustration of chairs. It is a simple way of explaining grace. It’s an illustration of three chairs. Let me introduce you to “Chair One – Preventing Grace,” “Chair Two – Justifying Grace,” and “Chair Three – Sanctifying Grace.”

Chair one reminds us that when we live unto ourselves we have not yet fully discovered but only inclinations that God exists. Preventing grace leads us to the possibility of our Creator God’s existence. It draws our attention to the something more in life, i.e, chair number two.

Chair two clears away our doubts about the possibility of God and convinces our hearts and minds that God is found in Christ Jesus. We acknowledge our own personal experiences of our flesh, sin, and fallen nature. We come out of the darkness of soul and awaken to a fresh experience of life. When we realize we need God to find health, wholeness, and healing, then we look for the sustaining strength of the Holy Spirit. It is when we surrender wholly to the Spirit of God that we are transformed into his likeness. That’s when we arrive at chair number three.

Chair three takes us to another level of personal growth and development. It is at chair three that we begin to experience the radical life changing behaviors toward God, our selves, and our neighbors. We think differently, we behave differently, and others can witness a noticeable change in our life style. No longer are we bound to habits that hold us captive. In fact we might catch a glimpse of transformation even in our money handling skills. Surely how we spend our money is a reflection of what we find important in our lives. Chair three is where the gifts and callings begin to emerge in the disciple of Christ.

As I pondered the three chair illustration today I am reminded of the three crosses on Calvary’s Hill. Calvary’s Hill can teach us profoundly about grace and where we stand in our grace relationship with God the Father Almighty. We can grasp grace beautifully in each person’s response to their suffering. The first cross is the critic who never took responsibility for his actions.

The second cross was the thief who accepted the punishment for his criminal behavior. We know this man made it to Paradise with Jesus, but he didn’t walk out his faith on this earth. He could have lived so much differently for the betterment of his neighbors. You see he got right with God, but he never had the opportunity to get right with his neighbors. You and I do have that opportunity. We are not faced with death today in such a way that it impedes us from going to our neighbor and saying I am sorry. Forgiveness is a powerful witness of grace. In the second cross we receive God’s love, but in the third cross we get to give it away!

The third cross was Jesus who modeled the way to heaven’s gates for all of us to follow. When we stand in the shadow of the Almighty, we choose to live a sacrificial life like Jesus. We are called to this kind of life style. We can no longer afford to live in denial of our sinfulness. We can no longer afford to miss out on the relationship with our neighbors. When we choose to live in the shadow of Jesus, we have much to gain.

Paul is teaching us in the first two chapters of Galatians that living a legalistic life style keeps us bound under preventing grace. To Paul legalism in the Jewish traditions of the Ancient Near East held a certain social pride with it. Those who followed the Torah to the letter would be held in greater esteem than those who were not so inclined. Even today there are those who enjoy their discipleship techniques following the letter of the Torah as opposed to the spirit of the Law. And, there are those who want to throw out all the guidance of the biblical text and suggest that we live under the guidelines of love alone – whatever that would mean to each individual person.

But there is a middle way – Jesus and his cross. Jesus died because we could not follow the Law, and it is through the cross that the fullness of the promises has been given to us. Jesus died that we might be able to discover what love of God and neighbor means in light of the empowerment of the Holy Spirit that is at work in those who believe. We know that not everyone who declares “Lord, Lord” is saved to the uttermost that they might know God. We know that we are no longer condemned by the Law, but stand at peace with God through the cross.

Methodism can look a whole lot like Preventing Grace if it is not understood in light of the filling of the Holy Spirit. We find ourselves practicing the disciplines of our faith but with a different purpose. We pray and repent, communion with one another at the Table of forgiveness, conference with each other in worship and classes to grow in fellowship, fast from food and luxuries to temper our bodies from sinfulness, and spend much time in Bible study and reflection to develop our inward selves. But our purpose in these activities is to humble ourselves in our relationship with God and others that we might grow in a profound love toward each other, respectfully.

Paul uses himself as an example of missing out on the purpose of the Law. Paul thought the Law would gain him access to God. However, the Law was put in place to help us in our relationships with God and neighbor. We can mark our successfulness in life when we begin to live as Brother John reminds us in his letters that God loves and we are called to live into that profound love with God and neighbor. It is love not works that set us apart from the world we live in. Many people can hand out cold water as an act of kindness, but can they learn to build a relationship beyond the acts of kindness to reach the very heart of another person.

The cross frees us to love God and neighbor.

Paul’s letter leads us to first understand the spiritual problem, which he diagnosis as legalism. Then he reviews the theological understanding of grace. His final point is to lead the believer into a rightly understood application of grace. He desires for both morals (our mental understanding of right and wrong) and ethics (our practical daily living) to walk side by side. The cross frees us to live beyond our mental to do list to open up opportunities to live in authentic love toward our neighbor. You see our doing is what gets us in trouble with our neighbor, and, therefore, gets us in trouble with God. When we do to suit ourselves and avoid the reflection of whether our loving is really good for our neighbor we miss the righteousness of God. Our neighbor can believe what is right and good for him or her, but only God’s word can show us what is the best for our neighbor. Our neighbor’s experience cannot drive our loving, but God can direct our steps effectively.

The cross moves us to take five steps: prayerful relationships with God & neighbor, presence in a faith community experiencing communion together, spiritual gifts & financial offerings to bless the poor in spirit, talents to serve others in need, and witness of Christ Jesus in our hearts and lives as we go forth to make disciples for the transformation of the world. Each step leads us into the deeper revelation of grace for our lives. Grace can be something we do or something that becomes who we are. At the cross we have the opportunity to move from doing good works to being a disciple who loves others.

Grace looks like love.

The freedom afforded us at the cross is the expression of God’s great love for us. When we discover Paul’s basic doctrine of grace, it leads us to ethical expressions of love. Agape love that takes on various expressions of affections: joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control. It is in the place of the expressions of agape love for neighbor that we discover the Kingdom of God breaking into our time and space.

The Spirit of God is the source of this agape love as it has never been a part of our own DNA. It is given to us. This agape love comes from God alone and finds its resting place on willing receipts that confess Jesus as their Lord and Savior. This agape love that we receive then returns to God and is given away to our neighbors. It never finds its origin in our selves.

The fruit of the Spirit is a product of the Holy Spirit living inside of us and changing us from the inside out. The Holy Spirit is the source of the fruit. The agape love is both for God and neighbor. The chara joy of the Spirit is a reflection of our surrendering a developing relationship with God. The ierene peace of the Spirit is the tranquility that comes with the presence of God dwelling within. The makrothumia patience is the ability for us to struggle with longsuffering when others hurt us. The Spirit enables us to behold a chrestotes kindly and gentle disposition toward our neighbor. We actively bear the fruit of the Spirit which is agathosune goodness. The Spirit bears within us the fruit of pistis faith or faithfulness. The Spirit provides the fruit of prautes meekness or gentle submissiveness. We are enabled to be egchrateia self-controlled by holding our passion and appetites by crucifying our sinful fleshy nature. To be sure the Spirit of God essentially enables us to walk the line, to behave properly and in order.

We can make a distinction with the fruits by dividing them into three categories: habits of the mind (head – love, joy, peace), actions toward our neighbor (hands – patience, kindness, goodness), and self-behaviors (heart – faithfulness, gentleness, self-control).

As I have lived among you for this season of my life I have had the privilege of tasting the fruit of the Spirit in your lives of love, joy, and peace. I have witnessed how you love one another. I have heard your joy when you sing the songs that touch your heart. I have experienced the peace that passing understanding as you have cared for the sick and disabled in your lives.

As I have lived among you I have witnessed the Spirit within each of you of patience, kindness, and goodness. You have exerted patience when God required of you a fresh experience of God’s grace. You have shown kindness in your friendships with one another. You have demonstrated the goodness of giving financially and with gifts to others in your community.

As I have lived among you I have noticed your faith, gentle ways, and your self-control. Together you remain faithful in your relationship to God and neighbor. Together you have given away gentleness to the children. Together you have demonstrated self-control in the face of differences.

When we are not walking in the Spirit as we should, we stand in need of correction. Paul teaches us that correction is part of the overall package deal. Often we think of our selves too highly than we ought and we find ourselves in need of a gentle persuasion for us to right our wrongs. Paul goes on to say that we are to bear one anothers burdens – share their load of cares. When life gets too busy, we are to jump in to rescue. We life becomes depressing; we are to lift each other up. There are a few errors we are tempted to fall into such as self-conceit, self-deception, and self-comparison. All three errors demonstrate what happens when our eyes are on ourselves and not on God Almighty. Just imagine for a moment what would have happened to Jesus if during his trial and crucifixion if his eyes were taken off of the prize of his relationship with his Heavenly Father. Paul is fully explaining that when we take our eyes off of God, we fall into selfishness quickly and find ourselves not producing the fruit of a Spirit filled life. The Christian life is lived in community, and cannot find its fullness apart from that community.

In other words there are no successful lone rangers or solo artists in the Kingdom of God. We belong together. Grace it is what keeps us together.

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