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Severe Warning

By John A. Huffman, Jr. | Pastor, St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Newport Beach, CA

When the believers of Galatia initially put their trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation, they lost the yoke of slavery to sin and, in its place, put on the yoke of Christ, which Jesus describes in these terms in Matthew 11:28-30: "'Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.'" That word in the Greek translated "easy" really means "kind, gracious." The yoke of Jesus liberates us; whereas the yoke of the Law enslaves us.

When we decide that we can earn our way into God's favor, we can't be selective about how we earn it. We have to obey the letter of the law as well as the spirit of the law. Law is a hard taskmaster. Our inclination is to selectively go through and pick out those things that we think are important, and do them or not do them, in obedience to the law, setting up our own personal list of "dos" and "don'ts." Sort of like the old cliche, "I don't smoke and I don't chew, and I don't go with girls that do." We set our own standards and feel pretty good about them.

Gentile believers in Galatia who had come to faith in Jesus Christ now have been convinced by a group of troublemakers that they had to be circumcised. Somehow that would elevate their status with God. They assumed they could do something to earn merit with God. Paul says, "You have come to this and then you have got to obey all the rest of the law."

As a pastor, I have done hundreds of memorial services. The first three I did were in the last week of my ministry as a summer assistant at the Presbyterian Church in Palmdale, California. I had served there for the summer prior to my last year at Princeton Theological Seminary. They released me from my work for five days to marry Anne and have a brief honeymoon. The final six weeks of the summer, the senior minister, Jack Springer, trusted in my leadership while he was on vacation and leading a conference for some of the youth. In that last week, three people died. One was a godly senior citizen of that church, a woman of faith. One was the chairman of the education committee of that church, an elder, approximately 40 years old, who died of a heart attack and left a wife and young family. And one was a derelict off the streets of Palmdale, a man whose life had spiraled downward in alcohol addiction.

I learned quickly what every faithful pastor ultimately learns. As a pastor, we dare not play God. If a person is clear in their declaration of faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation and their life has shown the evidences of the work of the Holy Spirit, we certainly bear testimony to their witness for Christ and give the assurance that they are now in the presence of Jesus Christ. But, ultimately, God is the only One who truly knows the heart. God is the only One who can see the total picture of that elderly saint, that middle-aged elder, that tragic derelict.

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