THE RACE

marathon

Jesus has done everything for us. But being Christian is not really just about agreeing to the fact that Jesus has done it all. It is about personally trusting Jesus. It isn’t about a fact, it is about a person. We aren’t saved by facts; we are saved by Jesus himself.

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Galatians # 16 . Chapter 5:7-12

You were running well. Who prevented you from obeying the truth? This persuasion did not come from the One who called you.

Paul says that up until this point, the Galatians had been running well. I want to talk about that word-picture he uses: running. The Christian life is not a one-time ticket-purchase. It is a race. And I will add that it is not a sprint, but a marathon. There are several places where Paul makes this analogy, and the writer of Hebrews also uses it.

Don’t you know that the runners in a stadium all race, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way to win the prize. Now everyone who competes exercises self-control in everything. However, they do it to receive a crown that will fade away, but we a crown that will never fade away. Therefore I do not run like one who runs aimlessly or box like one beating the air. Instead, I discipline my body and bring it under strict control, so that after preaching to others, I myself will not be disqualified. (1Cor 9:24-27, HCSB)

Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us. (Heb 12:1, HCSB)

Too many “Christians” look at Christianity like life-insurance. Their attitude is, “Sure, it’s something you need, but you don’t really benefit until you die.” So they get baptized, or “make a decision” or get “confirmed” or something like that, and then they ignore Jesus for the rest of their lives, unless, of course, they get into trouble and need his help. Some of these folks think that “going to church” is part of the ticket price, so they may go to church too, but it doesn’t affect how they live here and now. Incidentally, it is those people, and their typical pattern of behavior, who are mostly responsible for giving Christians such a bad name.

But Paul says, “No, that’s not how it is. This is a race we have entered.” We are supposed to remain in the race, committed to, and focused on the goal. It isn’t a little side-part of our lives. It is our life. It isn’t life insurance. It isn’t something we do when the mood strikes us. Yes, we still go to work and pay our bills and take vacations, but all these things now come under the context of the marathon, the race we are running toward heaven. As Paul says, we don’t live aimlessly any more. We aren’t running for no purpose. Marathon runners are not people who just get up on day and say, “I feel like running twenty-six miles today.” They train. They focus. No real marathon runner starts the race, and then, half a mile later, says, “I’m stopping for coffee. Maybe I’ll get back in the race later on.” No, once they are in the race, they don’t stop until they cross the finish line.

That is what it is like to become a Christian. We have entered something. We are engaged upon a lifelong quest. We don’t embark upon it lightly, and we don’t abandon it lightly.

We Christians have sometimes mixed up the gospel. Becoming a Christian is not primarily about agreeing to a certain set of facts. You’ll meet people who present it this way. If you believe A, B, and C, and utter prayer D, then you are a Christian. I remember in college, getting some training in evangelism. That’s how they trained us. We were supposed to share certain facts with people, support the facts with bible verses, and ask for their agreement:

A. The bible says that all people, including you, have sinned (Rom 3:23).

B. Our sin means we are under condemnation from God (Rom 6:23). We can’t fix it ourselves (Eph 2:8-9)

C. God took it upon himself to restore us to him, by coming as Jesus the Son (John 3:16).

D. Everyone who believes in Jesus is saved from their sins and will have eternal life (1 John 5:11-12; Rom 10:8-13).

E. Do you believe this? If so, say this prayer with me….

These things are all true. But the way I first learned to present them might very well have given someone the impression that all they had to do was agree with the facts, say the prayer, and then get on with life.

I don’t want us to get confused in the series on Galatians. Jesus has done everything for us. But being Christian is not really just about agreeing that Jesus has done it all. It is about personally trusting Jesus. It isn’t about a fact, it is about a person. Because it is about a person, it is about personal trust and personal relationship with the One who has saved us. Don’t get me wrong: the things that I preach about Jesus are factually true. But we aren’t saved by facts; we are saved by Jesus himself.

The goal of all we have been learning so far in Galatians is not to get people to say, “Great! I agree that Jesus took care of all it for me. Now I’m off to do my own thing.” No. The goal is for all of us learn to trust and love Jesus. If we already do, it is to increase our trust and love for him. The facts should be inspiration and motivation to do that.

So Paul says that the Galatians were in the race, running well. He goes on:

Who prevented you from obeying the truth? This persuasion did not come from the One who called you. A little yeast leavens the whole lump of dough. I have confidence in the Lord you will not accept any other view. But whoever it is that is confusing you will pay the penalty. (Gal 5:7-10, HCSB)

When he was with them, it seemed that they got it. But now suddenly someone has cut them off, changed their conviction. Paul says that the persuasion that is changing their minds is not from Jesus. He then quotes a proverb that Jesus himself said: “a little yeast leavens the whole lump of dough.” We make bread in much the same way that people did in New Testament times. You combine, flour, water, oil, honey salt and yeast. In a 1kilo (2 pound) lump of dough, you use about 10 grams of yeast (1 tablespoon). By weight, that means the yeast makes up about 1% of all the bread. And yet it profoundly affects every bit of the dough, changing it dramatically. Both Jesus and Paul meant two things by turning this into a proverb:

First, like yeast, false teaching tends to spread and have a much wider influence than you might expect. It only takes a little bit of false teaching to start affecting a lot of people.

Second, I think this comparison shows that many times, false teaching might be just a little bit of lie combined with a lot of good truth. This is one of the favorite tricks of the devil. When he came to Adam and Eve, he said: “Did God really say, ‘You can’t eat from any tree in the garden’? ” Of course, God said they couldn’t eat from just one tree, that was true. But he insinuated the lie that God had forbidden all trees. Then he said,

“No! You will not die,” the serpent said to the woman. “In fact, God knows that when you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen 3:4-5, HCSB)

That’s true, in a way. Once they sinned, suddenly they knew about evil in a way that they never did before. They had a greater understanding. But it wasn’t the kind of understanding that the devil led them to believe it was. It was a half-truth. False teaching and temptation often work like this.

One of the most prevalent false teachings in America now is the “prosperity gospel.” It comes in several different forms, but basically it goes like this: “God loves you, and wants to bless you. If you get right with him, and have the right attitude of faith, if you claim what is yours in faith, he will bless you financially.” Subtler forms of this message might end instead with he will heal you; or, he will give you what you want; or, he will make your life easy. There are many different things people add in there. Now, in many ways, a lot of this is true. God does love us. He does want to bless us. We should approach him in faith. There are just two small lies here. The first lie is that if you simply do your part by having enough faith, or the right kind of faith, or testifying to your faith in the right way, God will always do what you want him to. That’s not true. Faith is not lever that we pull to manipulate God. It is the abandonment of ourselves to the One we trust.

The second small lie is that the blessings we want to have are exactly the same as the blessings that God wants to give us. Many times, we want things that, for reasons we may never understand, are not what God wants to do for us right now.

In any case, the point is, false teaching – whatever the specific lie – is very dangerous and powerful. It is often just a few small lies combined with a lot of truth. Paul says those who are doing this – leading the Galatians astray – will pay the penalty. He doesn’t specify what the penalty is, but we can assume it isn’t good.

Paul goes on,

Now brothers, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. (Gal 5:11, HCSB)

The doctrine of the cross of Christ is offensive. To the Jews, it was offensive to say that the law was irrelevant, that you could be saved through trusting Jesus rather than doing the law. It took away the power and influence of the leaders of Jewish religion. In fact, it was a fundamental change.

But it is offensive to others in other ways too. For some people, it is offensive to say that Jesus is the only way to God and to eternal life. We covered that in more depth last week, if you want to go back and read it. Another offensive idea is this: there is something fundamental in each one of us that deserves crucifixion. The cross shows us how evil and ugly sin is. In fact, the cross was the physical judgment of sin, so in the cross sin is judged to be sinful. When we tell people that their favorite, self-serving or sinful activities need the forgiveness brought by Jesus’ death, they often get offended. A lot of folks are willing to acknowledge some petty little sin, or something they don’t mind not doing, or giving up. But if the cross shows up the sinfulness of their lifestyle or of a cherished activity, watch out! It is offensive.

Paul is entirely willing to suffer persecution for the sake of Jesus. That doesn’t stop him from being a human person who was irritated with those who oppose him. His final thought of these verses deserves mention:

I wish those who are disturbing you might also get themselves castrated! (Gal 5:12, HCSB)

With that pleasant thought, let’s pause and listen to what the Holy Spirit may be saying to us.

Have you been looking at following Jesus as sort of ticket that you bought for heaven, or a kind of part time hobby that you do when you feel like it? Let the Holy Spirit correct you and speak to you about that. Let him also speak forgiveness and restoration to you. Trust Jesus, personally.

Are you in danger of believing a lie because it sounds good, or because at least part of it is true? Let the Lord protect you and speak to you about that too.

Finally, are you prepared for the fact that the cross of Christ is offensive to people? Are you ready to run the race, in spite of the scorn and anger of others?

Above all, remember, all this is not about a set of facts, it is about a person, Jesus Christ, who love you, who gave up his life to save you and so that you could be with him.

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