A Most Unpopular Message

Years ago, I was part of a group of men who met regularly to support each other in their Christian faith.  We were all very new to a relationship with Jesus Christ and His God The Father.  The group had a format to follow which included this question: “What have you done during the week so Christ will be better known and loved in your family, vocation, community, small group and Christian community?”  One man in the group always came with a piece of paper.  On that paper he wrote a very long list of things he had done during the week to promote Jesus.

I can only guess how other men felt but I know how I felt.  When he read his list but I felt like a failure because I could not report as many things as he did to promote my Lord and Savior.

My list was short.

Being a “young” Christian, I thought I was going to fail at this Christian “game”.  This guy was working his way to heaven, and I was not going to make it. 

As I recalled this instance [twenty-five years ago], I now recognize the folly of this “worker” for Jesus.   John Stott closes The Cross of Christ with the seven affirmations of Galatians and number five is entitled “the cross and persecution.”  Number five is all about grace and works, the idea that man can “work” his way to heaven.

I find Stott’s approach to this topic very interesting.  He basically says that preaching the cross is preaching the need for God’s grace.  This message is “grievously offensive to human pride” because it tells people like the man in my group (with his long list) that he will never do enough to merit God’s favor.  Even “overachievers” like that guy will have to depend on God’s grace like everyone else. 

In the context of Galatians [5: 11 and 6:12] Paul speaks of the law of circumcision.  He states in these Scriptures that preaching the message of “works” would be popular with people because the need for Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross would not be necessary.  All they have to do to live a righteous life is follow the law to the letter and work hard to follow that law.

In contrast, if he preached the need for the cross [Jesus’ sacrifice and our need for His cancellation of our sins] Paul feels he would be persecuted.  Circumcision is an outward sign of piety but does it really mean that a man is truly devout?  Outward signs are like the “long list.”  Outward signs point to what man can achieve on his own.  Outward signs emphasize human potential or human ability.  “Christ [is only needed] only brought in to boost them [men], and with no necessity for the cross except to exhibit God’s love and to inspire us to greater endeavor” [Stott, 338]. 

Paul is really saying that human beings are rebels against God.  We have that baked into our sin nature.  If we don’t rely on Jesus Christ, we are lost.  We don’t have what it takes to earn our place in heaven, our chance at eternal life with God The Father.  We have to rely on Jesus for that, for the inexplicable gift of grace.  We don’t deserve it but it is the unbelievable gift of the Son of God, Jesus Christ.  The fact that we get this gift and don’t have to earn it is the inexplicable part.

There is no list long enough that any man can produce.  There is no human ability special enough.  We just do not have what it takes to will our way to heaven.

Galatians 5: 11 and Galatians 6: 12 point to Paul’s stand against what he calls “false teachers.”   One of the most egregious teachings is that of “works.”  Stott writes “To preach salvation by good works is to flatter people and so avoid opposition.  To preach salvation by grace is to offend people and so invite opposition” [338].

Peaching works is a way to be popular; preaching man as sinner is a way to be faithful.  Paul preaching man as sinner is very unpopular and it can lead to his persecution.

Preaching works says that man can do wonderful things, things so wonderful that he can earn his way into heaven [thank you very much Jesus Christ; I don’t need You].  Preaching man as a sinner expresses the idea that man must rely on Jesus, for Jesus did what He needed to do to give man a chance to live eternal life.  Jesus knew man is a sinner and he needs help. 

Jesus knew man needed a Savior.

Jesus knew man needed grace.

Unmerited favor for man…

A gift worth dying for…

For Jesus…

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