Why God Accepts Us
Fourth in a Series (February, 2003 POL)

Text: Galatians 3:14

Today’s message will be quite different from my customary preaching. At least in the first part.

Today is officially Stewardship Sunday.

Ever since I became a senior pastor in 1968, I have annually preached a stewardship sermon. When announced in advance, it substantially decreases the size of the congregation.

On occasions like today, when nothing is said in advance, it sort of sneaks up on some and makes them quite nervous.

Relax. This year, God has led me, for the first time in 35 years, to not preach a stewardship sermon.

No, this doesn’t mean that there is no need for such a message. There is.

In fact, it is especially important because this year, for the first time in over 20 years, we have once again launched forth in faith in a dual financial commitment.

On one hand, our local and world mission ministry needs the strong, continuing support of God’s people. I’m always concerned as we come into the last three months of the year that we end the year in the black. We are dependent on the months of November and December for over 25 percent of our church’s annual income. And it’s important that we have strong pledges for next year so that we can move forward in local and world mission. I refer to this part of our stewardship as the “left-pocket” giving that represents tithes and offerings of God’s people in faithful stewardship. This kind of giving comes out of the normal cash flow – the first fruits of what God has given to us. We are privileged in our use of that cash flow to put things of Christ’s kingdom front and center. The first check Anne and I write each month goes to this local and world mission of Jesus Christ through St. Andrew’s.

There is the second aspect of stewardship reflected in the “Building the Future” capital campaign. This involves everything that is part of the new youth/family center, provision of additional parking, and the upgrading of all of our physical facilities for the next generation of ministry. You have made faith pledges of close to $14 million toward the present goal of $18 million. Your building committee is meeting twice a week and in constant contact with our architectural and construction team to come up with a major modification of the plans we presented to you last spring based on the fact that it appears we will not have access to the land across the street on which to build a parking structure. These new plans are now being prepared for Session to review and vote upon. We hope by the middle of November to have new floor plans and conceptual drawings for you to see. This is “right-pocket” giving that supports this kind of long-term investment for the future. The kind of money most of us use to fulfill this kind of pledge is the same kind of money with which we make a down payment on a house or finance the children’s education. How grateful we are to those of you who have already started the cash flow on these three-year faith pledges.

Anne and I are beefing up our tithes, writing a check each month to carry on the local/world mission ministry of St. Andrew’s. We are in the process, right now, of adjusting our personal finances so as to be able, by the end of November, to pay the first third of our three-year pledge to the “Building the Future” capital fund.

I’m convinced of three basic, biblical, stewardship principles that are now transforming the lives of many of us who are taking them seriously and have enabled this church to be what it is both in meeting its local/world mission and capital needs.

The first theme is that together we can do what we could not possibly do separately. That’s a great biblical principle. I’ve observed it function in each of the churches I’ve pastored and, in particular, seen it revolutionize our life here at St. Andrew’s. Since 1978, we have seen our local/world mission increase from $500,000 to over $7 million while, at the same time, completing a $16.5 million building program and burning the mortgage on it in the early 1990s.

The second theme is that wherever a group of God’s people are gathered, all the resources are there to do whatever God dreams of doing. The question is whether God’s people will practice biblical stewardship to accomplish God’s dreams. Thank God you have.

The third theme is God’s challenge that we not rob Him. You know that important passage in Malachi 3:8-10, which reads:

“Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me.

“But you ask, ‘How do we rob you?’

“In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse – the whole nation of you – because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.”

It has been exciting to see how each year a few more individuals and families take God at His word and, in faith, make the decision to tithe. They’ve discovered what I discovered when I started tithing at age nine, that you have to live on 90 percent instead of 100 percent. They’ve discovered what I’ve discovered through the years, that life is so much more joyful when one has such an enthusiasm about investing in eternity, that one’s quality of life is so much better living on the 90 percent instead of the 100 percent – when many in our society, with credit cards, are trying to live on 110 or 120 percent of one’s income.

You should receive in the mail this week our stewardship brochure titled “Sharing with Joy.” That’s the theme, joyful giving to the work of Jesus Christ.

On Sunday, March 3, I received an e-mail from one of our members, Elizabeth Fry, with the identifying subject “tithing testimony.” I was so impressed with it that I asked Elizabeth if she would be willing to share it with you today. She has enthusiastically agreed. If you are a tither, I know that you will say an enthusiastic amen to everything she is now going to share. If you are not, I encourage you to open your heart to God’s leading as she shares. And I trust that, as we take that pledge card and bring it to one of the three services next weekend, we will be able to share the joy she will describe as she gives this word of witness. Come share with us now, Elizabeth.

Tithing Testimony
by Elizabeth Fry

After graduate school and racking up $60,000 in debt, I knew I had to tithe, but HOW? So on faith I jumped up my semi-monthly random checks to $167 as my commitment to quiet the nudging of the Holy Spirit concerning “Of much that is given, much is required.” At first I tried to write the check after the rest of my bills and never found I had enough. I was getting more and more behind. Then my pastor at Bel Air said, “I don’t know why, but if I wait to write my tithe check after other expenses, I always come up short. But try this, write your tithe check first. All of the 10 percent does not have to go to our ministries here at Bel Air, just make sure it is 10 percent.”

Then my struggle started to be whether 10 percent of net pay was correct. So I studied the Scripture. I interpreted “Render unto Caesar, that which is Caesar’s and render unto God, that which is God’s” to mean 10 percent after tax was OK by Jesus. Since I did not have my income until after my Caesar, the US Government and State government, took out taxes, that must mean 10 percent after tax tithe is biblical.

Then I married into the fellowship here at St. Andrew’s. And good ole John Huffman preached the tithe means 10 percent BEFORE taxes. This sermon elicited lots of discussions with my husband. And the Holy Spirit started nudging me louder and LOUDER. Oh, we were both giving, just not 10 percent BEFORE taxes. And if we both were not convicted about this 10 percent pre-tax giving, I was off the hook, right? However, my 10 percent pre-tax giving was easier to calculate since I do not own my own business, as my husband does.

It then became abundantly clear. The Holy Spirit was convicting ME. And as I heard Arch Hart’s wife say in a seminar on marriage at Hollywood Pres’ aithlift that year, “Wives, you are NOT your husband’s personal Holy Spirit! Stay on your side of the road!” So on faith, as God had answered our prayer to move closer to our church, and our mortgage was going to go up, I decided to test this nudging of the Holy Spirit on my heart. I began tithing 10 percent BEFORE TAXES and wrote that check first as income came in to me. Around this time my husband decided to increase his giving to a pre-tax tithe, on faith, as he put our tithe checks into our offering envelope together. My prayer to be a better steward and let go was being answered.

About two weeks after moving into our new home, I called to get the payoff on my last student loan from graduate school. The voice on the other end of the phone said, “As long as you make your next payment on time, the rest of your loan is being forgiven.”

I said, “WHAT?”

She repeated the same words to me. “As long as you make your next payment on time, the rest of your loan is forgiven as of January 1, 2000.” “How can that be? By my calculations I still owe about $8700.

“You have made all your payments on time and never gone into deferment. This is a Bond 3 loan from the state of Massachusetts and all loans in your status will be forgiven as of January 2000, as long as you make your December payment on time.”

“Has this been advertised anywhere?” I asked.

“No, but you along with others in your same situation will be receiving information about this after the first of the year.”

“Is this a taxable event to me?” I asked.

“No. This is a Bond 3 loan and is limited to the extent that it cannot make a profit on the recipient. Your obligation will be forgiven, without it being a taxable event.”

Well, I had to wait to receive the actual paperwork to REALLY believe it was true, but a warm wave of love washed over me as I immediately thought of that first check I’d written on faith, which represented 10 percent of my pre-tax wages. You see, I can’t out give God, even if I try. The monthly amount on the Bond 3 loan was more than the extra I was paying toward my tithe.

While I’ve told others in my covenant groups about the phenomenon I saw happen in my own life, I’ve been secretly praying for the Holy Spirit to convict other hearts as He did mine in late 1999. Because I’ve known not just a cheerful heart as I write those tithe checks, but a joy that cannot be described in words. God has not protected me from horrible grief and pain, but His provision continues to be clear to me.

Thank you for allowing me to testify to GOD’s faithfulness and extraordinary patience with me.

My husband is clear that we’re doing what is biblical now. And although his business continues to grow, he is not convinced that God automatically blesses us financially because we’re tithing. He now feels that we do it because it’s Biblical.

We should stay anonymous probably since the Bible says, what good is done should be done in secret. For that reason, I’ve prayed for discernment about when and to whom to tell this story. Today at new members class, I understood from the Holy Spirit, the time is now to share it with our church family. We’ll leave the decision to keep us anonymous or go public up to you, John, since we want to give this testimony, but in no way want anyone to think we think we are better than anyone else in any way, shape or form. Simply, the Holy Spirit convicted both of our hearts in this area and used the ministry at St. Andrew’s and your sermons to do it. And we are continually blessed with more and more fiscal responsibility. It is such a joy to get to decide where to give “windfalls” we don’t expect, like raises, bonuses, etc. in our tithing. As I am confident you know well, this tithing and offering business really changes one’s whole relationship with money.

I was very poor growing up, often having breakfast for dinner. My dad was laid off from many jobs and never made more than $19,000 in a year. I went to college on all scholarships and grants and it was through my faith praying often on my knees to Jesus to show me one semester at a time how to pay for law school at Boston University. I worked the whole way through law school, caring for an elderly woman in exchange for room and board the first year and a half, and still having to take out loans. I decided nothing appreciates like I do, no amount of real estate, and God would open the doors I was supposed to walk through, if I stayed close to Him. The mere fact that I am a practicing lawyer for 12 years, managing 2 law offices as an in-house lawyer for my largest client is a testimony of faith and reliance on Him.

Yours in Christ,
Elizabeth Fry

 

Thank you, Elizabeth, for those very moving words.

Now we come to part two of this two-part sermon.

We now resume the study of Galatians, looking at the theme “Why God Accepts Us,” our text being Galatians 3:1-14.

We now come to a transition point in this important letter. Galatians 1-Galatians 2 make up a personal section, dealing with grace and the Gospel. Galatians 3-Galatians 4 make up a doctrinal section, dealing with grace and the law. Galatians 5-Galatians 6 make up a practical section, dealing with grace and the Christian life.

We are now transitioning into this second section, Galatians 3 and four, which is doctrinal in nature. The next 60 verses that make up Galatians 3-Galatians 4 are some of the strongest writing Paul ever penned under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. He knew that he was in a battle. He was determined to prove that salvation is by grace alone, not by the works of the law. His opponents had used every possible means to try to capture the churches of Galatia. And Paul was not going to be halfhearted in his response. Paul knew how to debate. After all, he had been trained with the best education possible in Roman, Greek and Hebrew culture. So, in these next two chapters, he gets to work, mustering the very best in theological argumentation. His logic is the basic logic of the Christian faith.

Dr. Warren W. Wiersbe, in his commentary titled Be Free, declares that Paul uses six different arguments to prove that salvation is through faith in Christ, not by legalistic works. He writes:

Paul uses six different arguments to prove that God saves sinners through faith in Christ and not by the works of the law. He begins with the personal argument (Galatians 3:1-5) in which he asks the Galatians to recall their personal experience with Christ when they were saved. Then he moves into the scriptural argument (Galatians 3:6-14), in which he quotes six Old Testament passages to prove his point. In the logical argument (Galatians 3:15-29) he reasons with his readers on the basis of what a covenant is and how a covenant works. He then presents the historical argument (Galatians 4:1-11), explaining the place of law in the history of Israel.

At this point, Paul’s love for his converts comes to the surface. The result is a sentimental argument (Galatians 4:12-18) as the apostle appeals to them to remember his love and their happy relationship in days past. But then Paul goes right back to his close reasoning, and concludes with the allegorical argument (Galatians 4:19-31), based on the life of Abraham and his relationships with Sarah and Hagar. Practical application of his doctrinal argument follows in the last two chapters.

Let’s now look at these first two arguments as our outline for today’s text – the first two of the six arguments emphasizing the fact that God saves sinners through faith in Christ and not by the works of the law.

Argument one: The personal argument.

Paul develops this personal argument in Galatians 3:1-5. He writes:

You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? Have you suffered so much for nothing – if it really was for nothing? Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?

How easy it is to shift gears from grace to the law. Paul uses some strong language here.

He refers to them as “foolish.” You might be quick to say, “Isn’t he violating the words of Christ in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:22 when we are warned never to refer to anyone as ‘you fool.'” Actually the word in the Greek that Paul uses here is a different word from the one used by Jesus. The one Jesus is using means “a godless person” and is warning against verbal abuse. Paul is using the word that means “spiritually dull,” the same word he uses in Luke 24:25. He is simply declaring a fact.

Let’s face it. It is possible to be a foolish Christian, a spiritually dull Christian.

He also refers to them as being “bewitched.” These Judaizers, these false teachers, had come along and convinced them that their experience was not complete. They needed something else besides faith alone in Jesus Christ. They needed to obey the law of Moses if they were really to be able to claim salvation.

When Paul refers to them as being “bewitched,” William Barclay translates this, “Oh senseless Galatians, who has put the evil eye on you – you before whose very eyes Jesus Christ was placarded upon His Cross?”

The Greeks had a great fear of a spell cast by the evil eye.

Then Paul refers to Jesus Christ being “clearly portrayed as crucified.” The word in the Greek here refers to putting up of a poster, not dissimilar to modern-day billboards. In the first century, a father who had a son who was using money irresponsibly would post a notice saying that he would no longer be responsible for his son’s debts. Posters were also put up advertising auction sales. Paul is trying to help them visualize the fact that he had held up before them, in huge sign-board fashion, a picture of Jesus Christ dying on the cross, bearing all of their sins, the only one who could make them righteous in the eyes of God through His imputed righteousness.

In essence, he is saying how sad it is what has happened to you. You Gentiles who came to faith in Jesus Christ, are acting stupid. It’s almost as if you had been bewitched, seduced, from seeing the all sufficiency of Jesus Christ. Remember how free you were when you first heard the Gospel? The Holy Spirit came into your life. The Holy Spirit worked miracles. Did He work those miracles because you observed the law or because you believed in Jesus Christ?

Now you men have been deceived into thinking that you have to be circumcised as adult males so as to conform to the Old Testament Jewish laws. You are trading in your freedom in Jesus Christ for bondage to the law. You are buying the false teaching of these Judaizers that you now have to obey all those Old Testament dietary laws, becoming Jews in order to become Christians.

What miracles has God done in your life?

A skeptic once asked a new Christian who had been in bondage to alcohol, “Do you really believe the miracles in the Bible?”

“Of course I do!” the believer replied.

The skeptic laughed. “Do you mean that you really believe that Jesus could turn water into wine?” he asked.

“I sure do! Because in my home He has already turned wine into food, and clothing, and furniture.”

Thank God for His grace and the wonders He has done in your life.

Remember last week we made that analogy of carrying a hefty bag of garbage and placing it at the foot of the cross before you come to the communion table? Remember we also talked about someone else who takes a hefty bag of good works and lays it at the foot of the cross. We talked about the ground being level at the foot of the cross. We talked about how some of us have both a hefty bag of garbage and a hefty bag of good works that we have to lay down at the foot of the cross. We live in this society in which we so quickly draw up our ledgers of good and bad, functioning legalistically, grading ourselves.

What a privilege to dump all of the stuff of human failure and accomplishments at the foot of the cross and to be clothed in Christ’s righteousness.

But some of us, literally, as we turn from the communion table, thanking God for His grace, check out brand-new hefty bags and, one on each shoulder, start piling in the garbage, feeling very bad about ourselves, and piling in the good works to make us feel really good about ourselves. Then we’re back to the old bondage of being weighed down by works of righteousness.

Max Lucado writes about this in these words:

I need to learn to travel light.

You’re wondering why I can’t. Loosen up! you’re thinking. You can’t enjoy a journey carrying so much stuff. Why don’t you just drop all that luggage?

Funny you should ask. I’d like to inquire the same of you. Haven’t you been known to pick up a few bags?

Odds are, you did this morning. Somewhere between the first step on the floor and the last step out the door, you grabbed some luggage. You stepped over to the baggage carousel and loaded up. Don’t remember doing so? That’s because you did it without thinking. Don’t remember seeing a baggage terminal? That’s because the carousel is not the one in the airport; it’s the one in the mind. And the bags we grab are not made of leather; they’re made of burdens.

The suitcase of guilt. A sack of discontent. You drape a duffel bag of weariness on one shoulder and a hanging bag of grief on the other. Add on a backpack of doubt, an overnight bag of loneliness, and a trunk of fear. Pretty soon you’re pulling more stuff than a skycap. No wonder you’re so tired at the end of the day. Lugging luggage is exhausting.

What you were saying to me, God is saying to you, “Set that stuff down! You’re carrying burdens you don’t need to bear.”

“Come to me,” he invites, “all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

Argument two: The scriptural argument.

Paul writes in Galatians 3:6-14:

Consider Abraham: “He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the Gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, “The righteous will live by faith.” The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, “The man who does these things will live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.

This is a powerful argument from Scripture.

Paul goes back and uses Abraham as a case study in salvation by faith not works.

I’ve been reading from Thomas Cahill’s book The Gifts of the Jews. Cahill gives a graphic description of the days of Abraham, almost 4,000 years ago. He describes the pagan culture of that day and how Abraham, a man who does not know where he is going but goes forth into the unknown wilderness under the prompting of his God, leaves his home in Ur, moves to Haran, and then ultimately leaves there, in faith, for a land totally foreign to him but one promised by God. This is a life motivated by faith, not by observing the law of Moses. It would be another 400 years before Moses. Paul is trying to help us return to archetypal faith. A simple trust in God alone for salvation.

Two weeks ago Trevecca Okholm led us in the children’s story, telling us about how God promised a son to Abraham. Decades went by, and there was no son. Finally, in a miraculous way, when Sarah was past the age of bearing children, Isaac was born. And God asked Abraham to take that son up to Mount Moriah and to sacrifice him. Trevecca put a graphic on the screen. I received a very sincere letter from a man in our congregation whose name will remain anonymous. Perhaps he is expressing some of the thoughts you had.

Dear John,

I understand the intended message that God can be trusted, but with child abuse so prevalent today I have to tell you I was shocked that Abraham’s sacrifice of his son was still being used with young children to teach this message. The image on the TV screen of a man with a knife about to stab his son must be shocking and possibly harmful to small children – a few of whom must conclude that some fathers will stab their sons to death.

Many now believe that children who experience abuse as a child will often become abusers themselves. Is it time to discontinue the usage of this Bible story at least as a tool for teaching small children? Thank you.

Very sincerely yours,

I responded with this letter:

Thank you so much for your letter of October 1 in regard to Trevecca Okholm’s children’s message.

As I mentioned in my sermon on Sunday, I believe it is imperative that we teach and preach the entire biblical narrative. I must admit that the graphics of Abraham with sword in hand over the child does get one’s attention. At the same time, we must realize that was normative at that time in Middle Eastern history. The sacrifice of the first born male was perceived as one of the greatest ways to appease the wrath of the gods and gain their favor. The tremendous message that Trevecca was giving was that Abraham trusted God, and God trusted Abraham. Abraham was willing to do anything God asked. When God saw that was his heart, He made it very clear that God never asks us to kill our children and that God was declaring once and for all that infanticide was not to be incorporated into authentic worship.

At the same time, we dare not remove the biblical emphasis that “without the shedding of blood there is no remission for sin.” The Old Testament sacrifices of animals and the ultimate “Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world,” personified in the person of Jesus Christ on the cross, are central to the faith – as ghastly as we see that imagery to be. That is how seriously God takes sin. Scripture says, “He, himself, bore our sin in his body on the tree that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.” These themes dare not be ignored because they do not meet our modern standard of politically correct understanding. Although, I must be the first to acknowledge that the past 100 years of post-Enlightenment thought and ethic has slaughtered more innocent people than any previous century in history from World War I right down to the atrocities of the last 20 years, including the Iran/Iraq War, the war crimes of the former Yugoslavia, close to one million lives so brutally killed in Rwanda, the results of terrorism in more recent months and those many situations that have not even come to the surface in the national and international press.

Well, typical to my form, I have responded with much more than that for which you asked. Thanks for taking things seriously. And if you ever want to sit down and talk about some of this, I’d be happy to do it. Just let my administrative assistant, Toni Wood, know, and we’ll set up a time.

With warmest regards, I am

Yours in Christ,
John Huffman

All through Galatians 3:6-14 Paul is quoting Scripture, building a case that the true children of Abraham are not Jews by physical descent but Jews and Gentiles who have believed in Jesus Christ. You see, what Jesus Christ did on the cross not only has significance to those of that day down to the present. What Jesus Christ did on the cross is retroactive to Abraham.

Genesis 15:6 reads, “Abraham believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.”

Paul here quotes Habakkuk 2:4, “…but the righteous will live by his faith….”

Paul anticipates once again, quoting Habakkuk in his opening words in Romans 1:17, “For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.'”

Again this word will be echoed by the writer of Hebrews who would later declare: “‘But my righteous one will live by faith'” (Hebrews 10:38).

Do you see the scriptural argument Paul gives here to try to say here in no uncertain terms that you have to choose between salvation by works or salvation by grace. You can’t have both. Paul makes it clear. “All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law'” (Galatians 3:10). So, he says, “The righteous will live by faith.” Then he declares that the one who is cursed is Jesus Christ on the cross, bearing our sins. This was the ministry of the Holy Spirit to Abraham and to all believers to the very present. Thank God for the Holy Spirit’s gift of faith who ministers to us God’s grace. Hopefully these two illustrations can drive the point home.

Remember Charles Blondid who did that amazing tight-rope walking over Niagara Falls, carrying a volunteer on his back? Suppose the volunteer had stopped half-way and asked to go the rest of the distance alone. He would have been insane to do it! He’d gotten that far by faith and could only make it the rest of the way by faith.

Dick Todd told me a little story this week about a professor who handed out final exam sheets. He asked that they be kept face down as he gave a final review of the semester’s course. Then, he told them to turn over the packet so the questions would be face up. Much to their amazement, they saw not only the questions, they saw the answers already typed in and the grade A-plus placed at the top of the sheet.

Well I guess you could go up and complain that after all that studying you didn’t even have to take the test. You could complain that you studied hard and you knew that someone else never cracked a book all semester. How unfair. Or you could go up and say, I really don’t deserve this A-plus. I didn’t know all those answers.

That’s the way it is with grace. For God’s sake and yours, don’t try to reverse what God has done for you in Jesus Christ!

Question: Why does God accept us?

Answer: God accepts us because of His love for us expressed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ on our behalf! Not because of what we have done.

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