A Final Word about Authentic Christian Faith
Eleventh in a series
(April, 2003 POL)
Topic: Authentic Christian Faith
A signature is very important!
Words in and of themselves are cheap.
You can go to the bank and talk with them about the idea of refinancing your home. They will give you all the specifics. But the deal is not final until you sign on the dotted line.
The same is true in terms of marriage. You can date, have romantic moments and talk about a life together. But the moment of reality is when you go to the county clerk’s office to sign the wedding license, putting both of your signatures on it, and then publicly taking the vows before witnesses that you have pledged yourselves to each other.
One of my friends, Dr. Jerry Tankersley, pastor of the Laguna Presbyterian Church, when preaching on today’s text some years ago, described graphically to his congregation how he and his wife felt the day they walked into the judge’s chamber to sign the adoption papers for their son. All that counted for him on that day was the commitment that he was making to that little baby who had come into their family at two and one-half months of age. He writes:
The signature that I wrote on that document said it all. We were beginning our life as parents. I have never signed my signature on anything, from a check to a letter, that I have not been reminded that, in some sense, I was saying what counted, what mattered to me.
That’s precisely what Paul is doing as he concludes his letter to the church in Galatia.
He writes, “See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!” (
Paul’s method of writing letters was usually that of dictation to a scribe. Then he added his signature. However, in this letter, he does more than that. From at least
He makes reference to the large letters of his handwriting. Scholars are not certain why he makes that reference. Some believe it is because of the importance of this paragraph. He writes in large letters as if to emphasize in heavy type what he had to say. It may have been written large because Paul was not used to wielding a pen. Therefore, his penmanship was bulkier than that of the trained scribe, gifted in calligraphy. Or it may very well be that Paul’s eyes were weak or that he had a blinding headache and all he could do was produce large, sprawling handwriting, a man who could barely see.
You and I take for granted the wonderful invention of eyeglasses. Imagine how most of us in this room would function if we did not have such a blessing. The reality is that most of us at about the age of 40 have a biological problem. The crystalline lens of the human eye hardens, producing a condition similar to far-sightedness. The eye can no longer focus on close objects. David S. Landes, in his book titled The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, describes the dilemma middle-aged people all through human history faced until the invention of eyeglasses, apparently in Italy during the latter part of the Middle Ages. His research leads him to believe that the first magnifying glasses, improved to reduce distortion and connect a pair into a wearable device, leaving the hands free, apparently first appeared in Pisa toward the end of the thirteenth century. And, in the middle of the fifteenth century in Italy, particularly in Florence and Venice, thousands of spectacles were fitted with concave as well as convex lenses, myopes as well as presbyopes. This revolutionized the life of all persons to whom these spectacles were available, especially intellectuals and craftspersons.
Paul, whatever his eye problems were, did not have the benefit of these. Therefore, he was dependent on younger colleagues to serve as scribes. He thought it was very important that his signature and, in this case, even the last verses be in his own handwriting. He is making it clear that what he has already dictated, and now the words with which he concludes, are very important.
Let’s look at these final words of this treatise that emphasizes salvation is not through self-righteous works but through your and my faith in the saving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Final Word One: Authentic Christian faith is primarily an internal, not external, matter.
Paul writes, “Those who want to make a good impression outwardly are trying to compel you to be circumcised” (
The Galatians are trying to make things look good externally.
They figure that if they can get Gentile men to become Jewish proselytes, be circumcised and profess their faith that Jesus is the Messiah, they would have a good thing going. Paul is incensed. He is convinced that this is for outward show. They probably had convinced themselves of the importance of this.
Paul is trying to get across the fact that vital Christian faith is not summed up in external observances, religious hoops through which one jumps, things you have to do to be accepted by God.
This circumcision topic has little relevance to you and me today. But we have our parallel convictions about external matters.
I can introduce you to churches that make a big deal over the external mode of baptism. Do you sprinkle? Do you pour? Do you immerse once? Do you immerse three times, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit?
Today these battles over external expressions evidence themselves in what many of us are calling “worship wars.”
We have a bit of this right here at St. Andrew’s. There are some of you that get quite distressed that we have introduced any kind of contemporary music into our Sunday morning worship. And for others of you, Saturday evening’s loud rock worship service does not go far enough. Some of you prefer the great hymns of the faith and see them as more authentic expressions of worship than praise choruses, in which the same words are sung over and over again. Others of you can’t relate to the left-brain linear nature of historic hymnody. For you, it is the repetition of a spiritual phrase, a word from Scripture that lifts your spirit into the presence of Almighty God.
I love how what I am going to read to you now captures the external dynamics of the contrast between praise choruses and traditional hymns:
An old farmer went to the city one weekend and attended the big city church. He came home and his wife asked him how it was. “Well,” said the farmer, “it was good. They did something different, however. They sang praise choruses instead of hymns.”
“Praise choruses?” said his wife. “What are those?”
“Oh, they’re OK. They are sort of like hymns, only different,” said the farmer.
“Well, what’s the difference?” asked his wife.
The farmer said, “Well, it’s like this. If I were to say to you: ‘Martha, the cows are in the corn,’ well that would be a hymn. If on the other hand, I were to say to you: ‘Martha, MARTHA, MARTHA, the cows, the big cows, the brown cows, the black cows, the white cows, the black and white cows, the COWS, COWS, COWS are in the corn, are in the corn, are in the corn, are in the corn, the CORN, CORN, CORN.’
“Then, if I were to repeat the whole thing two or three times, well, that would be a praise chorus.”
The next weekend his nephew, a young, new Christian from the city, came to visit and attended the local church of the small town. He went home and his mother asked him how it was.
“Well,” said the young man, “it was good. They did something different however. They sang hymns instead of regular songs.”
“Hymns?” asked his mother. “What are those?”
“Oh, they’re OK. They are sort of like regular songs, only different,” said the young man.
“Well, what’s the difference?” asked his mother.
The young man said, “Well, it’s like this. If I were to say to you, ‘Martha, the cows are in the corn,’ well, that would be a regular song. If on the other hand, I were to say to you,
Oh Martha, dear Martha, hear thou my cry
Inclinest thine ear to the words of my mouth
Turn thou thy whole wondrous ear by and by
To the righteous, inimitable, glorious truth.
For the way of the animals who can explain
There in their heads is no shadow of sense
Hearkenest they in God’s sun or His rain
Unless from the mild, tempting corn they are fenced.
Yea those cows in glad bovine, rebellious delight
Have broke free their shackles, their warm pens eschewed
Then goaded by minions of darkness and night
They all my mild Chilliwack sweet corn have chewed.
So look to the bright shining day by and by
Where all foul corruptions of earth are reborn
Where no vicious animals make my soul cry
And I no longer see those foul cows in the corn.”
Then if I were to do only verses one, three and four and do a key change on the last verse, well that would be a hymn.”
Frankly, God likes both and is also turned off by both. It depends on the authenticity of your worship. Sing a hymn or a praise chorus in a nonchalant, casual manner without concentrating on the words and concentrating on God, and all you have is the outward, empty form of religion. Sing either of these styles and variations on them from the heart, lifting your praise to Almighty God and you have authentic, internal, God-centered worship
Jesus was quite upset by the emphasis on outward show made by the Pharisees.
He was impressed by the sincere faith expressions of those who had a simple trust in God, who loved the Lord with all their heart, mind and soul, and their neighbor as their selves.
Is your religious expression simply an external action or does it have internal, existential life-commitment undergirding it?
Final Word Two: Authentic Christian faith doesn’t compromise to avoid persecution.
Contemporary culture always allows for some form of religious expression. In some environments, there is a lot of freedom. In others, it is quite restricted.
You would have thought that the Romans would have been religiously overbearing. They had the power to enforce whatever they wanted to enforce. At the same time, they had the wisdom to allow some degree of freedom to their captive constituencies, as long as those nations paid their taxes and did not carry out insurrection against the Romans.
The Romans recognized the Jewish religion. They officially allowed the Jews to practice it. Circumcision was clearly an outward, visible mark that a person was a Jewish male. To enlist the new Christians into Jewish conversion, demanding circumcision of them, helped avoid persecution. Instead of being an incendiary new religion called Christianity, they could claim a sub-cult category under the already accepted umbrella of Judaism.
Paul was not prepared to accept this. He knew that the way of the Cross of Jesus Christ involved suffering. He already had experienced this. Later he would catalog for the first-century believers the extent of his own personal suffering and persecution, all coming about because of his genuine commitment to the crucified and risen Christ.
Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea. I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles, in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all churches.
I wonder what Paul’s reaction would be if he saw us today, the American church. I wonder what would be his response to observing our efforts toward becoming “user-friendly” churches.
Faithfulness to the Gospel message of salvation only through faith in Jesus Christ and the faithful teaching and preaching of the Scriptures is not always that popular. Humorous, interesting, anecdotal, clever rhetoric is “user friendly” and can draw great crowds. However, when the popular preacher moves to another city or discredits himself through scandalous activities, people tend to flee to another place which we will call “The Church of What’s Happening Now.”
There are those who periodically put before every pastor a printout of the attendance record. And every month we see the financial statistics. I don’t see anywhere in the Bible that the size of weekly attendance and the size of offering are listed as indexes of spiritual vitality. When we step into the presence in the day of believers’ judgment I see no index in the Bible that He will respond something like this: “Well, done, you saints at St. Andrew’s. In twenty-five years you grew your budget from $500,000 to over $2,000,000, plus paid off an additional $16.5 million building program. I am a bit concerned that a couple of those years you did not end in the black, and that there are times when your attendance plateaued and even slipped a bit.”
No, you will find nothing like that in the Bible.
Instead, we are told to look forward to that day when Jesus looks into our eyes and says, “Well done thou good and faithful servant. Enter your eternal rest!”
I remember those early years of my ministry here when I was, with great regularity, compared negatively to the preaching of other popular megachurch preachers, who were funnier, more entertaining, brighter, more scintillating. Every pastor I know feels the pain of being compared to someone else who has a different set of gifts, someone else who is blessed to have a dynamic radio or television ministry. Thank God for all expressions that are faithful to Jesus Christ. But never compromise and major on minors to look good and avoid persecution for the sake of the Cross of Jesus Christ and faithfulness to God’s Word. Paul observes that some of the Galatians are emphasizing the externals of such things such as circumcision for the wrong reasons: “The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ” (
Faithfulness to Jesus Christ does not produce an easy life. In fact, the people we most admire have paid a price for faithfulness.
I love these words of Mother Teresa: “I know God won’t give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish He didn’t trust me so much.”
Final Word Three: Authentic Christian faith is not hypocritical.
Paul writes in
At this point, Paul simply tells it as it is. He said, “This whole circumcision matter is a smoke screen. These Judaizers are hypocrites. They are trying to make you Gentiles become circumcised like they are to avoid persecution, to get along with the Romans, not because it is essential to being a faithful Jews. If being faithful Jews is what they are so concerned about, they would take more seriously the rest of the teachings of the law. They just want to use you.”
How different is sincere, authentic faith expression.
I am so blessed to be pastor of a church in which so many of you are growing in authentic faith expressions. When I came here as your pastor, Thanksgiving Day was not a very important day in the life of this church. There was a small worship service attended by 50 to 100 people. Anne and I really felt the call to make that an important time of faith-sharing. As you know, for many years now, the sanctuary has been filled, often to overflowing, with men, women and children coming to give thanks to God, listen to the wonderful choir of our church sing some hymns, to hear a meditation and to share personal blessings.
It has been a great thrill to see that happen. It is one of the most genuine, authentic worship experiences of our year.
Parallel with that, it has been an extraordinary thrill to see how emerging from genuine worship has come genuine service. For the last several Thanksgiving Days, Dierenfield Hall has been beautifully decorated, and scores of you have participated in preparing for, cooking, serving and cleaning up after a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner for the less fortunate in our community. I watched as covenant groups, parents and children, men’s fellowship and the Presbyterian Women, along with others from our congregation, welcomed over 400 of the less fortunate of our community to this Thanksgiving dinner. Many of these people live in motels, on the streets, and in the crowded conditions of the Shalimar apartments and/or are teenagers who have signed into Teen Challenge to get help with their alcohol or drug problems. Let me read to you a card I just received on Thursday:
Dear friends in Christ:
Thanksgiving 2002 will always be one of those landmark events in a family’s history. Our son entered Teen Challenge just two weeks earlier, and the prospect of facing the holidays without him broke our hearts.
Because of your kindness, generosity, hospitality and hard work, our day with our son (and daughter) was filled with love, laughter, thanksgiving, and wonderful food.
Thank you so much for incarnating our Savior’s love before us and for welcoming a worn Pilgrim family into a place of peace and fellowship.
That makes me want to cry tears of joy.
Yesterday I flew up to Medford, Oregon, to attend a memorial service of a dear friend, John Dellenback. John’s obituary was prominent this week in the New York Times, L.A. Times and other notable journals. A successful lawyer, he was elected to the Congress of the United States. He then became the Director of the Peace Corps, then President of the Coalition of Christian Colleges. His final years of major contribution were as my predecessor as the Chairman of the Board of World Vision U.S., serving also on the Board of World Vision International. It is these and other accomplishments that caused him to receive public recognition, both in his life and in his death. But what I appreciated about John Dellenback through the years was the way that he has been a “gentle giant” of Christian grace, love and sensitivity. He was never a pushover. There were times in which he pointed out things in my own life that he thought needed change. He loved me enough to confront me. He also made numerous gestures that showed how much he cared about those of us with whom he was called to serve. There was nothing hypocritical about John. His “yea was yea” and his “nay was nay.” He was a man of his word. Within the rarified political world that is so often marked by hypocrisy, he stood as a man of integrity.
I would like to be like that, wouldn’t you?
Final Word Four: Authentic Christian faith is willing to identify with the Cross.
Here in our culture, we wear crosses as jewelry, seldom giving a thought to what that would cost us in other countries.
One of my dear seminary friends went back to teach theology in his home country of Egypt. He married a young medical student. With some degree of frequency I would visit them while leading tours to the Middle East. This brilliant medical student was failed in her medical board exams for one reason: She wore the Cross of Jesus Christ, dangling from a chain around her neck. In that Muslim culture, the Cross is an offense. She was persecuted for her identity with the Cross of Jesus Christ. She was even told by some of her professors that all she had to do was show up for her exams not wearing the Cross and she would pass. But she refused to make that compromise.
Paul writes, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (
I love the words of that great hymn:
When I Survey the Wondrous Cross
When I survey the wondrous cross
on which the Prince of Glory died,
my richest gain I count but loss,
and pour contempt on all my pride.
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
save in the death of Christ, my God;
all the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to his blood.
See, from his head, his hands, his feet,
sorrow and love flow mingled down.
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
or thorns compose so rich a crown?
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
that were a present far too small;
love so amazing, so divine,
demands my soul, my life, my all.
Final Word Five: Authentic Christian faith involves becoming a new creation.
This Advent Season is wasted if we preoccupy ourselves in even the good religious busyness without inviting people to receive the ultimate gift of Christmas, God’s love and forgiveness offered to us through faith in Jesus Christ.
Paul concludes the final portion of his letter written in his own handwriting with these words:
Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation. Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, even to the Israel of God.
Finally, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen. (
In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, he writes this: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (
I urge you, I beg you, if you have never repented of sin and put your trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation, do it now!
The bottom line of this great epistle of Christian freedom is not that you earn God’s salvation by being religious, going to church, showing all the externals of obedience to the law of God but by that change of heart which comes through authentic repentance in which you put your trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation. You cannot earn it. It was earned for you on the Cross by God’s atoning work through Jesus Christ.
Francis Asbury, was the father of American Methodism. At the end of his notable and fruitful life, he had this to say:
Were I disposed to boast, my boasting would be found true. I was converted at the age of sixteen. At the age of eighteen I began to preach, and traveled some in Europe. At twenty-six I left my native land, bade adieu to my weeping parents, and crossed a boisterous ocean to spend the rest of my days in a strange land, partly settled by savages. In thirty years I have crossed the Allegheny Mountains fifty-eight times. I have slept in the woods and been without food and covering. Through the Southern states I have waded swamps and led my horse for miles, and in these journeys took cold that brought on the diseases that now prey on my body and must soon terminate in death. But my mind is still the same, that through the merits of Christ and by the grace of God I am saved.
You see, Asbury understood his works did not save him. At the same time, he understood that because of the salvation he had in Jesus Christ, he became a new creature and was propelled forward in service to Jesus Christ.
Let me conclude with a brief vignette told by William Willimon, the dean of the chapel at Duke University.
One day he received a phone call from a very irate father. The father exploded on the other end of the line, telling Willimon furiously, “I hold you personally responsible for this!” He was angry because his graduate-school-bound daughter had decided to (in his words) “throw it all away and go and do mission work in Haiti with the Presbyterian Church.”
The father screamed, “Isn’t that absurd! She has a B.S. degree from Duke and she is going to dig ditches in Haiti! I hold you responsible for this!”
Willimon said, “Why me?” The father said, “You ingratiated yourself and filled her with all this religion stuff.”
Will Willimon is not easily intimidated. He asked the father, “Sir, weren’t you the one who had her baptized?”
“Well, well, well, yes.”
“And didn’t you take her to Sunday School when she was a little girl?”
“Well, well, yes.”
“And didn’t you allow your daughter to go on those youth group ski trips to Colorado when she was in high school?”
“Yes . . . but what does that have to do with anything?”
“Sir, you are the reason she is throwing it all away. You introduced her to Jesus. Not me!”
“But,” said the father, “all we wanted was a Presbyterian.”
Willimon, who has an instinct for the jugular, replied, “Well, sorry, sir, you messed up. You’ve gone and made a disciple!”
God’s in the business of bringing about new creation.
Are you willing to release the people nearest to you to allow them to grow into the people God is calling them to be, even if it turns your familiar world upside down?
And, maybe, more targeted, the question should be: Are you willing to meet the crucified and risen Christ in a way in which all the religiosity is stripped off and you put your personal trust in Him alone for salvation and allow him to shape you into a new creation and do in you and through you that which He dreams of doing?