When is Christ unable to help us? Could there ever be a time, a situation that might arise in our lives when Christ would be unable to help us? That sounds like a preposterous question. After all, we have been taught that Jesus is able, that He is capable of providing for us everything we lack? The Scriptures show us that Jesus is all that we lack, all that our souls yearn for, and all that is required of us by God. To the woman at the well, Jesus was the Water of Life. To the crowd who spoke about Moses giving their forefathers bread from Heaven, Jesus said, “I am the Bread of life.” To the woman who was caught in adultery, Jesus was the Forgiveness from sin that she so desperately needed. To the man with the demon possessed boy, Jesus was the Deliverer who restored to him his son. To the man who was born blind, Jesus was the Opener of blind eyes. To the thief on the cross, Jesus was Eternal Life. Scripture teaches us that Jesus is able, and willing, to help those who are in need.
Scripture instructs us, and others have told us, that He is able to save us from the sin that has enslaved us. He is able to deliver us from death to life. He is able to provide for us everything that we need. If all of these things are true then it must be absurd to even ask the question – “When is Christ unable to help us?” Right? Well, don’t be so quick to jump to conclusions.
Today, I want us to take a look at this supposedly absurd question. We’ll spend our time this morning in Paul’s letter to the Church inGalatia. This is our eighteenth week of digging deep into this little letter to the Church inGalatia. We have seen how Paul has battled the false teachers of his day with a vengeance. Paul’s passion and zeal are firmly rooted in his deep commitment to the Truth of God’s Word and his desire to see the people of God firmly established in Truth.
The false teachers have been working tirelessly to spread their watered down Gospel, which Paul says is no Gospel at all. Today, we will see how Paul breaks the bad news to the Church – if they follow the false teaching of those who are leading them astray… Well, let’s just see what Paul has to say. Let’s take a look at our Scripture for today found in Galatians 5:1-12.
1It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.2Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all.3Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law.4You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.5But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope.6For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.7You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?8That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you.9“A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.”10I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion will pay the penalty, whoever he may be.11Brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished.12As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!(Galatians 5:1-12 NIV)
This is a shocking section of God’ Word. Paul ends this section of his letter with words that cause many to blush. Some Bible commentators have concluded that Paul’s speech was offensive, or even disgusting, but when we get to the end of our study we will see that every word of Paul’s letter is relevant and powerful in its message to those who heard it in his day and those who will hear it this morning as well. Let’s start at the beginning. I want to forewarn you that you will need to come back next week to get through the entire study with me. Like a good meal, we’re just going to take our time and savor this feast, word by word. Paul writes,
1It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.2Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all.(Galatians 5:1-2 NIV)
Paul has spent a lot of time spelling out the theological and eternal implications of yielding to the false teaching that was rampant inGalatia. At the beginning of chapter 5, Paul says,“Christ has set us free! Be strong and refuse to allow yourselves to submit to the yoke of the Law ever again!”Paul had thoroughly and clearly explained the purpose of the Law that had been given to the people of God in Galatians 3:21-27. Let’s take a look so that we might review before unpacking our Scripture in Galatians 5. Paul writes,
21Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law.22But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.23Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed.24So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.25Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.26You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus,27for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.(Galatians 3:21-27 NIV)
Is the Law opposed to God? Absolutely not! The Law is a schoolmaster that clearly shows us that we are absolutely incapable of upholding its high standards. The Law shows us that, if God’s approval is based on our goodness or holiness, then we are doomed. The Law shows us that we are utterly dependent upon God and His grace alone. Paul says in verse 26, that we are sons and daughters of God through faith in Christ Jesus. It is what Christ has done on our behalf, in dying for our sins, that has given us the opportunity to have faith and depend on God for our salvation.
Now, let’s get back to our Scripture for today. Paul says, “You are free in Christ. Don’t subject or submit yourself to the burden of the Law.” In verse 2 Paul writes,2Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all.(Galatians 5:2 NIV) If you will remember, the false teachers had been teaching the people ofGalatiathat it was fine for them to believe in Jesus, but if they truly wanted to be part of the covenant people of God that they needed to be circumcised as well. For the Jew, circumcision was more than a symbol, it was an act of obedience that made a person right with God. Paul, at one time, believed this as well, but when Christ Jesus changed his life, his eyes were opened and he learned that salvation is by faith in God’s only Son, Jesus our Lord.
With the false teachers laboring day and night to spread their false gospel, Paul fires back – “If you do this then Christ will be of no value to you at all!” This section of Scripture, like all of God’s Word, must be studied and prayed over for understanding, not simply read. At first glance we could conclude that Paul is condemning circumcision and that all who have undergone this procedure are separated from the benefits of Christ. As a matter of fact, I read a website of a Jewish man this past week that said this verse is reason enough why every Jewish man should not trust Christ. How absurd! Paul is not saying that circumcision is wrong or that circumcision separates us from Christ, but he is saying that those who trust in human effort are trusting in something other than the finished work of Christ.
Late Wednesday night Connie and I watched a documentary about the Angola State Penitentiary inLouisiana. The documentary followed several of the men who were doing time behind bars, but there was one inmate that really left an impression on me. John Ashley Brown was convicted for the violent murder he had committed and was sentenced to execution. The documentary followed Mr. Brown all the way to his execution. When they moved him to the “death house” they interviewed him as he awaited his execution the following morning. The interviewer asked,“Are you going to heaven?” Mr. Brown smiled and with confidence in his voice said,“Yea, I’m going to heaven.” “How do you get there?”the interviewer quizzed him. John Ashley Brown said,“You get to Heaven by living as Christ-like as you can.”He paused for a moment and said, “I don’t think I’m there yet.” The next scene in the documentary was of the coroner carrying John Ashley Brown’s body away in a body bag.
My friends, the question of “How do we get to Heaven?” is too important for us to offer our opinions, share what we feel in our hearts, or recite what others around us or popular opinion believes. We need the assurance of God’s promises and His promises alone.
Paul’s bold statement that those who trust in circumcision are beyond the help of Christ Jesus is rooted in the choice that we must make today. Will we trust in our own righteousness, the good works that we can do, or will we trust in the righteousness of Christ alone. Paul wrote to the believers inCorinthand explained the benefit that comes to those who trust in Christ alone.
27But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.28He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are,29so that no one may boast before him.30It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.31Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”(1 Corinthians 1:27-31 NIV)
He is our righteousness, our holiness, and our redemption! In Isaiah 64 we are told that our most righteous and noble efforts are nothing more than “filthy rags” in the sight of the perfect and holy God. My friend, we have a choice to make this morning – will we surrender our lives to Jesus Christ and confess that He alone is our only hope of salvation or will we continue to compare ourselves to others and conclude that we really aren’t that “bad?” Will we confess our sin and our desperation before a holy and righteousness God and cling to Him in faith or will we face God and say, “I’ll handle it! I don’t need anyone telling me what to do. I will be as good as I can be and let the chips fall where they may.” I urge you, I plead with you this very morning — surrender your life to Jesus Christ and have faith in what He has accomplished for you and me on Calvary’s cross when He shed His blood as payment for our sins.
There was nobody who worked harder at being “good,” who put more effort into keeping every stroke of the Law than Paul, and yet Paul, exhausted from his efforts, wrote,“There is no one righteous, not even one.”(Romans 3:10) Paul knew how desperately he was dependent upon the grace of God exhibited through Christ’s death on the cross. If you will remember, in Galatians2:21, Paul wrote,
21I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”(Galatians2:21NIV)
If we could be made right with God by trying harder or by keeping the Law in every detail, then Christ died for nothing. Christ died for sinners. You and I are sinners. We are desperately in need of His grace that has been made available to us through the cross.
If we refuse to trust in His sacrifice on our behalf, or if we play the game of the Galatians and believe that we must do something to “earn” our salvation, or believe that we can do something to improve our standing with God, then Jesus can’t help us. Those are not my words; those are the words of the Apostle Paul. Paul writes,2Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all.(Galatians 5:2 NIV) The Greek phrase that Paul uses in this verse for “no value”is a two word combination. The phrase is found in other places in the New Testament. Let me show you some of the other places where the phrase appears so that you can get the full meaning and feel the emptiness of this little phrase. In Hebrews 4:2 we read,
2For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith.(Hebrews 4:2 NIV)
In Hebrews 13:9, the writer of Hebrews urges his readers to stand firm and refuse to be carried away by every kind of strange teaching. In this section he was warning them that it is grace and not eating special ceremonial foods that would strengthen their hearts. Read along with me in Hebrews 13:9.
9Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by ceremonial foods, which are of no value to those who eat them.(Hebrews 13:9 NIV)
Making sure that you eat the right food might help you maintain better health, but it sure won’t get you a closer relationship with God. It is His grace alone that makes us right with God!
Turn back in your Bible to the Gospel of Mark and let’s take a look at one final passage where the phrase is used. Let’s begin in verse 25 of chapter 5.
25And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years.26She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse.27When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak,28because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.”29Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.(Mark 5:25-29 NIV)
The woman had been under the care of many doctors and she had totally exhausted all of her resources to try and find a cure for her ailment. Scripture tells us that“instead of getting better she grew worse.” The many doctors who had cared for her and all of the money she had spent were of no value to her, they didn’t benefit her one bit, and they didn’t aid or assist her in her pursuit to find some relief. Do you see how void of hope this little phrase can be?
Paul says that those who trust in what they can do to impress God are beyond the help of Jesus. Jesus is of no value to those who think that they can contribute to His finished work on the cross for our salvation. Our refusing to trust Christ for our salvation makes His sacrifice utterly useless for our benefit.
Our refusing the remedy for our sins offered to us in Christ is like a man who is out at sea and his boat capsizes. The man labors and tries to hold on to anything that might keep him afloat. Day turns into night and night into day, but no one comes to the man’s aid. The man continues to struggle and fight with all of his might, but his strength is dwindling fast. Suddenly a boat appears and a man calls to the water-logged warrior. The man, fatigued from treading water can’t even muster the strength to answer his rescuer. The man in the boat throws a rope towards the man with a life preserver on the end of it, but the man just hangs on to the broken board he had salvaged. The man from the boat yells at him,“Grab the life-line and I will pull you in.” The drowning man refuses the line and musters the strength to answer back,“I’m ok.”The man in the boat tries to convince him that he needs help, that he is going to drown, but each time the man who had been in the water so long that he looked like a raisin refuses. After hours of trying to convince the man to accept help, the drowning man went under for the last time. The boat, the life-line, the willingness of the man who stopped what he was doing to help were all useless, not because they couldn’t have helped, but because their help was refused.
How much are we like this man when we try and convince ourselves that we can produce the help that we need. If we just try a little harder, if we come up with a better idea, another approach, then we can get ourselves to shore. We are shipwrecked, holding on to waterlogged boards, and going down for the last time. If we are to be saved then we must give up our ideas, approaches, and surrender to the strong arm of the Lord who is able to save us.
In our society surrender is a sign of weakness. Our society is thoroughly convinced that our own efforts will do. I don’t fault those who do not know, but for those who teach others that they can earn God’s blessing, or that their self-righteousness will suffice, then they will stand in judgment and be held accountable for those they are leading astray just as the false teaches ofGalatiawere held accountable. Martin Luther wrote in his commentary on Galatians,
Nothing under the sun is more harmful than the doctrine of human traditions and actions, for they utterly abolish the truth of the Gospel, faith, the true worship of God, and Christ Himself, in whom the Father has ordained everything. In Christ are hidden ‘all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge;’ in Him ‘all the fullness of the Eeity lives in bodily form” (Colossians 2:3,9) Therefore, all those who are either authors or maintainers of the doctrine of works are oppressors of the Gospel. They make the death and victory of Christ useless; they blemish and deface His sacraments, utterly removing their true use. In short, they are blasphemers, enemies, and deniers of God and all of His promises and benefits.(Martin Luther, Galatians, pg. 245.)
I do not want to be counted in the number of those who taught what was contrary to the truths of God’s Word. I don’t want to be number with those who chose the easy road and taught what was popular or what people wanted to hear. I want to stand before God one day and be able to say,“Lord, I taught Your Word. I taught Your Truth. I was faithful in sharing with Your people the remedy for their sin. I was faithful in proclaiming the sufficiency of Your Son. I may not have been much Lord, but I was faithful in teaching Your Truth to Your people.”
My friends, this very morning the Lord is speaking to some of our hearts and calling us to surrender to the Savior. If you have been secure in your net worth, your reputation, your good deeds, or anything else, I urge you this morning to let them go and cling to the cross of Christ. He has paid the price for you and me and we are free to serve Him with all of our hearts if we will but just surrender. If you refuse this offer from the Lord then know, without a doubt, that He can’t help you when you stand before God.
You may be the most despicable sinner in town, but Jesus can help you. Satan may have convinced you that your sin is so great that there is no hope for you, but you need to know that Jesus can help you. Regardless of what you’ve done, what you’ve failed to do, regardless of what you’ve been – you can become a new creation in Christ this very morning, but only Jesus can help you! Won’t you invite Him in to your heart?