New Hope Fellowship, Fort Worth, Texas
June 23, 2019
It was the third Wednesday night of the quarter at First Church, Galatia, and that meant one thing: business meeting.
After the announcements, prayer, and call to order, the chair of the membership study committee rose to give his report:
After much study, the membership committee proposes that we keep our current standard of church membership—which is that any person who wants to join our church has to be circumcised.
The membership committee recommends that we not allow persons to join the church simply by baptism or statement of their faith in Christ or transfer of their membership from the churches in
any other Christian church.
Though we certainly understand why there are those who feel that this circumcision rule is keeping some Greek men from joining our church who want to be members, the Law clearly states that those who wish to be a part of the religion of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob must be circumcised.
I know that Paul has been writing some of you telling you that we shouldn’t be so concerned about following the Law, but our committee is convinced, after a study of the issue, that Paul is simply telling people what they want to hear.
This “gospel” that Paul is preaching is a watered down version of the true gospel, which requires obedience to the Law of Moses.
Because of the teachings of Jesus, the Law is not only available to Jews, but it is also available to Gentiles. But it is the Law that is the narrow gate to salvation, and anyone—Jew or Greek—must pass through the gate of the Law in order to be saved and to be a member of this church.
And we, as church leaders, have the responsibility of being the gatekeepers.
The key to the gate is obedience to the Law as revealed in the Hebrew Scriptures. And in this case, obedience to the Law means circumcision.
We simply cannot allow an uncircumcised believer to become a member of this church. Perhaps they can join as an associate member or by “watchcare,” but they won’t have a vote on the church budget or any other things that we vote on. They certainly can’t serve on committees—at least not on the important ones.
We know that this policy requiring circumcision is not exactly “seeker-sensitive,” but it is the right thing to do based on the Law as revealed in our Scriptures.
Are there any questions?
The people in Galatia who believed that Christians were still required to follow all of the regulations of the Law
to be right with God and
to be a part of the church
were called Judaizers. And honestly we can’t blame them for wanting to hold onto the beliefs and practices that had been central to their faith for all these years. These are not things that get changed easily.
But Paul says, Look, the Law was a babysitter. You don’t need a babysitter anymore. Now that faith has come, you are God’s child.
These are Paul’s actual words in Galatians 3:23-26:
Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.
I remember babysitting for my older brother when Brian and his wife had their first child. When Leah Brooke was born, I had just finished my freshman year of college. I had never been around a baby before in my life.
Leah Brooke turned out to be a great kid and a great person. She played soccer in college; she’s married now. But she was a terrible baby. She didn’t sleep, she screamed all day—terrible.
Leah Brooke was about 3 months old when they came to Dallas to visit. They stayed with me and my mom in my mom’s place. Like I said, I had never been around a baby before in my life. I was horrified. I don’t think she quit screaming the entire 3 days they were there. I couldn’t wait for them to leave. I was counting down the days.
Then five years later we had our own baby and everything changed. I could handle the crying and do things for my own baby in a way that I never could have imagined when I was just helping to take care of my brother’s child.
There’s a big difference between watching out for somebody else’s child on a temporary basis and being a father to a son or daughter for life.
Paul says the Law was just a temporary disciplinarian. We don’t really have a good word in English for what Paul is describing. The word that Paul used referred to a certain type of household slave whose job it was to oversee the behavior of a boy on his way to school and back and oversee him in the afternoons after he got home.
Basically, this disciplinarian was nothing more than a chaperone. Paul says that the Law was just a temporary chaperone for you until the real thing came along.
But now that faith has come, you don’t need a chaperone anymore to watch you from a distance. Because in Jesus Christ you are now a child of God through faith.
There’s a big difference between watching out for somebody else’s child on a temporary basis and being a father or a mother to a son or daughter for life.
The Law has served its purpose. Now that faith has come, by your faith in Jesus Christ you are a child of God.
And unlike the membership committee at First Church Galatia, God does not look on the outside of a person to determine whether or not he or she can be his child. God doesn’t check the skin or the foreskin to see if a person belongs.
This is the point that Paul is hammering home. And he doesn’t stop with circumcision. He goes on to say in verse 28 that slaves as well as free people can be children of God. In other words, God doesn’t choose his children based on their socio-economic status.
And that’s still not enough for Paul. He doesn’t know when to quit. He’s got to get the women in there too. And this is where it gets dicey. Jewish men prayed daily: I thank thee, Lord, that I am not a Gentile, a woman, or a boar.
But Paul steps in here and says that gender also does not exclude you from full inheritance rights in the family of God.
The point is that no longer are we subject to the Law which says that you have do certain things in order to be right with God. No longer are we simply people being protected by a chaperone who is following a job description, a checklist, a rulebook.
We are children of God.
We don’t have someone just watching us to make
sure we stay out of trouble and don’t get hurt;
we don’t have someone who is, without passion,
following a set of instructions.
Now that faith has come, we have someone who loves us as sons and daughters and seeks our love in return.
You are “heirs according to the promise” of God.
This doesn’t mean the Law is bad in and of itself or that it doesn’t serve a purpose.
We’ve been watching some World Cup soccer at our house; maybe you have, too. Soccer has been a big part of the life of our family. Both of my kids started playing soccer at a very young age. Sam and Ivy both played select soccer, which meant countless hours of soccer practices, games, traveling to tournaments.
And Jamie’s kids have all played soccer. We spent last week in Austin watching Marley’s team win the President’s Cup, and now they are going to the national tournament in Tennessee next month. I have seen A LOT of kids soccer.
I coached Sam’s and Ivy’s soccer teams for a few seasons when they first started playing.
Most of us in this room have had some experience with little kids’ soccer. You’ve seen it with your own children or grandchildren. You know how it is.
There’s a lot of bunching up and then all of a sudden the ball will squirt out and there’s goes the pack on the move again. There’s always at least one player on each team who is on the field but not in the game—lost in thought about the grass or shapes he sees in the clouds. Many of the kids are just enduring the game itself to make it to the best part—the snacks and drinks afterward.
In a lot of ways, soccer is a simple game. It’s definitely less complex and easier to learn than football or baseball. But even so, there are a lot of rules to teach the kids.
Don’t touch the ball with your hands.
Learn your positions: forward, midfielder, defender, goalkeeper.
When the ball goes out of bounds, there is a certain way you have to throw the ball in.
The goalie can touch the ball with his hands, but not if he is outside the penalty box.
You have to learn about corner kicks and goal kicks and free kicks and kicking off.
You have to remember to change directions at halftime.
You have to spend time at practice before the games start trying to help the kids to learn the rules of how to play soccer. You have to spend some time working on learning the rules. The kids would probably rather just get out there and play than listen to the rules.
Maybe it would be a lot easier if we didn’t bother to teach the team the rules. What if we just threw a ball out there and said, Go play soccer?
Forget about teaching them the rules.
Forget about drawing lines for the field.
Forget about putting up a net for the goals.
Just let them play. Forget the rules.
What do you think that would be like?
It wouldn’t be soccer. The rules give the game shape, they provide the boundaries within which you play the game and have fun. The game is actually more fun when you play by the rules.
Rules have their place and purpose. The law has its place and purpose. But the law also has its limits.
I coached Ivy’s Under 6 team. These were four and five year olds, boys and girls. Their first time playing. The afternoon of our first game I sat down with my roster and a pad of paper to prepare my game plan.
What I wanted to do was work on my lineup for the game. What I did was I made a little chart for each of the four quarters. I penciled in each kid where I thought they should play. The way I figured it, everyone ought to be able to play at least two quarters.
So for each quarter I wrote down the players’ names in their position on the field. And then I put a heading entitled “Subs” where I listed those who would be on the bench that quarter just in case I needed them. I put a lot of thought into it because I wanted to make sure that everyone got to play and that nobody got stuck back on defense or at goalie the whole time.
So it’s time for the game Friday night. I’ve got my chart. I’ve got it perfectly planned out.
Well, one of my starters gets scared right before the game starts and won’t come onto the field. So I made a substitution and made the change on my chart. Then, about three minutes into the game one of our girls gets hit with the ball in the face. There’s another one out and a substitution comes in. Then, about two minutes later, another of our players is crying—I don’t know why. So off he goes and another substitution comes in.
So when it comes time for the second quarter, I look at my chart and I can’t make heads or tails of it. There were so many kids going in and out my chart is ruined. I still held my chart for the rest of the game, but it didn’t do me any good.
The rules have their purpose, but they also have their limits. Because there are people involved. And people are always wild cards. People always throw a kink in our plans and systems.
The law has its purpose. It’s just that it’s limited. It’s not primary. It’s secondary. Love comes first. People come first.
Rules, the Law, are good, but the Law has a dark side. The dark side of the Law, the dark side of any law that we use as a standard for our lives, is that it can begin to take the place of
a living relationship with love,
a living relationship with God.
Law is never primary. It is always secondary. It leads to something else, something more. We’ve all seen the dark side of the law when it becomes an end in itself.
Greg Garrett teaches English at Baylor University and is a prize-winning author as well. He once wrote in the Baylor Line, the Baylor Alumni magazine, about how important stories are in shaping us. One of these stories he told on himself.
He had just gotten his Ph.D., and he bought himself a bright red new Chevy Baretta. He loved that car, and he told his little boy, Jake, the first time he picked him up in it that he would have to help him keep it nice and clean. No spilling, no muddy feet, that sort of thing. Jake agreed.
Dad reminded him again when he picked the boy up in the Baretta one day after the melting snow had left the ground muddy. When we walk out to the playground and back, it’s important that we walk only on the sidewalk. We don’t want to get the new car muddy, do we? Greg asked. Jake shook his head. He knew the rule.
When they got out of the car, Dad had to remind him again that they couldn’t just run right directly to the playground through the muddy grass. So together they circumnavigated the mud and finally arrived at the playground.
Greg sat on a bench and watched his boy happily sliding and jumping with the other kids from one thing to another. But then the little boy tried to leap from one part of the jungle gym to another– a leap his dad knew was too much for the boy’s little body.
Sure enough, the little guy missed the bar he tried to catch and came crashing down, hitting his head on something that made a thunking sound. He let out a wail that only a scared little boy can, and his dad ran over to him,
scooping him up in his arms and
finding a huge gash on his forehead.
The boy was crying even more as he saw the blood gushing out all over. Greg pulled off his sweatshirt to stop the bleeding and picked him up, running straight toward the car.
Daddy, the boy cried trying to get his dad’s attention as he went sloshing through the mud. Daddy!
What? Greg asked without stopping. What is it?
Stay on the sidewalk, Daddy. Remember? You’re going to get the car dirty.
The car no longer mattered, of course. Only the boy. The rule went right out the window as he got mud and blood all over the inside of his new car.
Paul is talking to the membership committee at First Church Galatia, and he’s talking to us, about a God who puts love over law.
I used to go to church youth camp every year with the Broadway group, and one year the camp pastor, Gordon Atkinson, said something in passing about how one of his moral codes is never putting principal over people. I had to think about that one, think through the implications. Can that be right? It’s a scandalous idea, really, when you think about it. The scandal of a person or a religion that doesn’t put principal over people. I’ve never forgotten that idea.
You used to have a chaperone. It was good, because it kept you out of trouble. It told you when you were dancing too close and got you home by midnight.
But you don’t need a chaperone anymore. You have someone who loves you permanently and deeply as one of his own. You are a child of God.
Male and female,
Jew and Greek,
slave and free.
Now that faith has come, you are a child of God. And nothing—nothing—means more than that.