Choosing Between Heaven and Hell
Life is filled with choices. Some choices have a little consequence. Some are more significant. Your choices will largely determine,
- Your health
- Whether your marriage is good or bad
- If your children grow up following Christ or keep Him at an arms’ reach away
- Whether you retire with money or without it
- How you are remembered by those who are around you.
As we conclude our study of the book of Galatians Paul wraps up the letter by writing a final postscript. In it, he draws some stark contrasts between him and the teachers who were proclaiming circumcision as a requirement for salvation. These contrasts will help us see vividly the decisions that we must make that will determine where we end up in life. But first, in Galatians 6:11 Paul writes
11 Notice what large letters I use as I write these closing words in my own handwriting.
It was common practice in Paul’s day to use a Secretary to write letters. Part of the reason for this was that parchment was very expensive. Someone who wrote clearly and small could get more into a letter than others. Another reason Paul might have used a secretary was because his own eyesight may have been getting bad. Both of these may account for the change in size as Paul writes the end of the letter in his own hand to authenticate all that the letter contains. It is just as possible that Paul wrote large for emphasis in these final points.
We do something similar today when we have a lawyer draw up documents on our behalf. They write the document (and use lots of words that seem unnecessary) and they present it to the client. That signature verifies that these are the wishes of the client.
In a sense, this is what Paul is doing here. He doesn’t want anyone to mistake the fact that it is Paul who is writing the letter. These are his words recorded accurately. Let’s look at what Paul says about the people trying to add something to God’s grace,
12 Those who are trying to force you to be circumcised want to look good to others. They don’t want to be persecuted for teaching that the cross of Christ alone can save.
Paul makes some pretty strong charges here. He says these teachers are motivated by the desire to
- Look good to others
- Avoid persecution
- To Boast and claim you as their disciple.
These indictments point us to the choices before all of us.
Between Biblical Truth and Popular Culture
Tim Keller writes,
Paul has already said that the preaching of the gospel is terribly offensive to the human heart (5:11-12) People find it insulting to be told that they are too weak and sinful to do anything to contribute to their salvation. The gospel is offensive to the liberal-minded people, who charge the gospel with intolerance because it states that the only way to be saved is through the cross. The gospel is offensive to conservative-minded people because it states that, without the cross, “good” people are in as much trouble as “bad” people. Ultimately the gospel is offensive because the cross stands against all schemes of self-salvation. (Galatians For You p.180)
The gospel is a message of new beginnings, forgiveness and the love and mercy of God. This runs counter to our culture because we want to believe that we ‘get what we deserve’. We want to feel that we can save ourselves by being good enough.
This desire is what the Judaizers exploited. They told the Galatians, what they needed was to be circumcised. If they would do that, they would become Jews, which would make them God’s people, and then they could receive God’s blessing.
This same kind of thing happens in some churches. People are told that if they just “follow the rules” they will be OK. Unfortunately, the rules seem to keep changing depending on where you are. You may be told that the way to be right with God is to
- Get baptized (and it may be in a certain manner)
- Walk an Aisle
- Say a specific prayer
- Give 10% of your income to the church
- Be a church member
- Speak in tongues
- Remain celibate
- Vote a particular political party
- Hold specific views on hot-button issues
The problem with all these things (some of them, good things) is that they are not the message of the gospel! When we teach such things we are catering to the world. We are giving people a way that they can “save themselves.” Yes, we talk about the importance of Jesus but the real deciding factor in salvation is what WE do. And frankly, the world around us is comfortable with that. We can take pride in that kind of salvation.
The message of the gospel, however, places everyone on equal footing. It doesn’t matter whether you are a long time church goer or whether you have spent your life in and out of jail. Whether the world loves you or hates you. We are all the same: we are sinful people who can only be saved by the grace and mercy of God.
Our specific sins may be different (some are way more socially acceptable than others . . . Think of gossip, gluttony, sexual promiscuity, materialism, and some idolatry), but they are all sin! They all leave us condemned before a holy God.
The message of the gospel is that we must come to the Lord repentant and dependent on His mercy and grace. We must rely solely and wholly on the work of Jesus on our behalf. Therefore, there is nothing for us to boast about. We can only proceed with humble gratitude as one who has been pardoned from the sentence they deserve.
I hope you feel good after you have been to worship. However, I hope you don’t feel good because you feel you have earned some credit from God. Instead, I hope you feel good because you have been reminded that God is good and for some reason He loves you even as He loves me. We should feel good because we are reminded that Jesus is Lord and He is the One we should trust for direction and leadership in our lives.
But that is only the first choice we must make.
Between Superficial and Genuine Faith
In verse 13 we read,
13 And even those who advocate circumcision don’t keep the whole law themselves. They only want you to be circumcised so they can boast about it and claim you as their disciples.
The Message paraphrases the passage this way
These people who are attempting to force the ways of circumcision on you have only one motive: They want an easy way to look good before others, lacking the courage to live by a faith that shares Christ’s suffering and death. (Message)
These people loved statistics that said they were vital and growing. The fact that they were inconsistent in their walk with Christ didn’t matter. As long as they felt they were “successful” they could hold their head up high. Others would admire them. They would be prosperous and popular.
Does that sound harsh? I don’t think so. There is a fine line between trying to reach people and trying to make a name for yourself.
If you go to a Pastor’s Conference you may hear people telling you that is important to
- Cast your vision (is it really OUR vision we should be concerned about?)
- Find your Brand (carve out your niche in the church business world so you can be successful)
- Enlarge your Footprint (start new churches (a good thing) that all focus on you (a bad thing) so people will see just how successful and important YOU are).
- Plan BIG events
We are to sing certain songs, provide certain programs and the list goes on. If you do these things you can be successful. HOWEVER, you can be successful and still be superficial. Jesus did not call us to “go and be successful”. He told us to go and make disciples (not for us, but for Him). The goal is to help people learn to walk with Christ in a deep way. We are to build His kingdom, not our own.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe deep and faithful people may become popular. However, if that is the goal they are aiming way too low.
Between Living for Self and Living for Christ
The last choice is similar to the others but adds yet another dimension.
14 As for me, may I never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of that cross, my interest in this world has been crucified, and the world’s interest in me has also died. 15 It doesn’t matter whether we have been circumcised or not. What counts is whether we have been transformed into a new creation. 16 May God’s peace and mercy be upon all who live by this principle; they are the new people of God. From now on, don’t let anyone trouble me with these things. For I bear on my body the scars that show I belong to Jesus.
18 Dear brothers and sisters, may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.
Our world encourages us to “look out for Number 1” and to “do what is right for you”. We measure ourselves by a metric that is faulty.
- We define beauty by the definition of advertisers
- We attribute value based on a person’s income
- We rank people by how they measure up to the status quo (Lord help the person who is “different”)
- We determine our values by majority opinion
- We raise our children so they will fit in and measure up (instead of so they will stand out)
- We define what is important by what the culture says is most important.
Paul says, because of the cross He no longer has to try to fit in. He doesn’t have to play by the rules of this world because he has taken up citizenship in the next world. He is going to serve the Lord even if it brings him into conflict with the world. He is not trying to keep the peace (meaning to make life easy), He is living now to serve the Lord God Almighty.
Eugene Peterson does another great job in paraphrasing this passage in the Message,
For my part, I am going to boast about nothing but the Cross of our Master, Jesus Christ. Because of that Cross, I have been crucified in relation to the world, set free from the stifling atmosphere of pleasing others and fitting into the little patterns that they dictate. Can’t you see the central issue in all this? It is not what you and I do—submit to circumcision, reject circumcision. It is what God is doing, and he is creating something totally new, a free life! All who walk by this standard are the true Israel of God—his chosen people. Peace and mercy on them!
In verse 16 we read about the “new people of God’. The text actually uses the term the “Israel of God”. This is an odd phrase that has commentators scratching their heads. However, I think when reading the book of Romans we get an idea of what Paul is saying.,
28 For you are not a true Jew just because you were born of Jewish parents or because you have gone through the ceremony of circumcision. 29 No, a true Jew is one whose heart is right with God. And true circumcision is not merely obeying the letter of the law; rather, it is a change of heart produced by the Spirit. And a person with a changed heart seeks praise from God, not from people.
The “Israel of God” are the people who are children of the Promise. They are those who have put their trust in the Messiah, the Savior, the Rescuer that was sent by God. That person, of course, is Jesus.
Way back in Galatians 2:20 Paul said,
My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
The true follower of Christ is the One who has stopped playing games. They understand that there are real choices to be made in life. We must decide whether we are going to
- Try to save ourselves or place our hope on Christ alone
- Commit to Christ and live by His priorities or only pretend to do so.
- Build our lives on the Word or God or only give lip service to His Word
- Be popular or Faithful
- Go “all in” with Christ or only wear the T-shirt.
Imagine there are two canoes right next to each other on the water. You have placed one foot in each boat. The water is calm and as you keep your balance you can straddle the two boats without any trouble.
Now suppose a speed boat comes by and creates some waves. The boats begin to separate. You must choose which boat to get into or you will end up in the water!
It used to be that our culture had enough of a Christian appearance to it that it was possible to straddle between the world and following Jesus. That’s not the case anymore. Those two ways are drifting apart. You can’t continue to straddle between two vastly different ways of viewing the world. You are going to have to make a choice and commit to that choice.
Will you choose the status quo? It is the easiest way. You won’t rock the boat. You can do pretty much whatever you want. You can do what all your friends are doing.
The other way will make you an oddball. It will lead you to go a different direction than everyone else. It will take courage that can only come from God. It may make you target.
The first way is wide road. Traffic moves swiftly. The other road is narrow and bumpy, and not well traveled at all. Jesus said, ““You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. 14 But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it. (Matthew 7:13-14)
Most will choose the easy way. They will drift further and further from God. They will tell you they believe in God . . . they just don’t believe in organized religion. What they mean is that they believe in a God who doesn’t bother them and impact their lives. Truthfully, these people are no different from those who worshiped a wooden statue, or a golden calf. They put their faith in something that is really nothing.
Those who choose the way of Christ will need to draw close to Him. You will need His courage. Make no mistake, it is not an easy road. However, the wide road leads to a dead end. The narrow road leads to life . . . a life that is beyond our ability to imagine. A life that is given to us by God’s incredible grace.
The apostle Paul wrote Galatians because he saw the danger. He understood the choices that must be made. He didn’t want the Galatians to trade the treasures of Heaven for a bag of rocks . . . no matter how attractive they looked.
I hope you will take this message to heart. I pray you will choose to follow the One who died to set you free from sin and the life of futility that goes with it. The One who wants to show us life as we’ve never seen it before.