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"Blessed with the Spirit by Faith, or Cursed to the Workhouse?"

Jan.24, 2016 Galatians 3:1-14


It was a lot of work at the beginning of this past week just to keep the driveway and walkway clear. Monday and Tuesday were "snow days": the news reported that Wingham received 60 cm of snow! (Or 2 feet for you pre-metric types.) That was on top of the snow we'd received towards the end of last week. Monday in good "Daniel Plan" style I used the snow scoop to clear the driveway (good exercise value I told myself), but Tuesday and Wednesday I broke down and resorted to the tractor and snowblower. It just kept coming and coming. I have to keep shaking the roof of our car shelter to keep the weight of the snow off; the pile of snow is now nearing the edge of the roof!

That Tuesday feeling of having had just about enough of snow and the associated work in shovelling, is akin to the burden the Apostle Paul wishes to spare the church in Galatia. Gal 3:3,10 "Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?...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."" Trying to earn our way to heaven by good works is an impossible human effort. Man-made religions (broadly speaking) centre on appeasing pagan deities by our offerings, sacrifices, and good works - but it's never enough. Like that snow that kept on falling, adherents of other religions may feel cursed, hopeless - it requires an impossible amount of human effort.

However good and innocent we may convince ourselves we are, we're never completely righteous. On social media I shared the photo from the news of a driver from Brussels (ON) who was charged because they only cleaned off a small portion of their windshield. We may see that and think to ourselves, "How foolish! I'd never do something as stupid as that!" My intended-to-be-clever caption was, "Gives snowblindness a whole new meaning."

After I posted it, a fellow Blythian commented that recently she was almost hit by a fellow citizen who was driving with a severely frost-covered windshield. Suddenly a pang of guilt struck me. A couple of weeks ago, coming home from Bible study, I had not waited for the whole windshield to clear, instead opting to drive the short distance home doing my best to peer out the defrosted part. Could she be talking about ME? Did I owe her an apology? I messaged her, only to find out to my great relief it was NOT me but somebody else. Nevertheless, it was a reminder that our sins do tend to pile up; and as the saying goes, be careful when you point a finger in criticism at somebody else, because you've still got 3 fingers pointing back at yourself!

Trying to earn God's approval through good works, observing the law perfectly, is a curse, a hopeless never-ending struggle. In today's passage, Paul declares the Good News about Jesus: the gospel, received by faith, frees us from our futile fight.


Funerals remind us that life is not ultimately about accumulating the most "stuff". It's not true that "he who dies with the most toys wins"! When you die, you can't take anything with you - cars or trucks or homes or jewellery or bank accounts or what-have-you. And when someone you love dies, someone who's been dear to you, it's not their "stuff" you miss: it's their presence, the relationship you shared, the sort of person they were as they interacted with you. So, in a close relationship, the most important thing someone can give you is not their material goods, but themselves.

The Lord God made an awesome creation, and put humans in charge. We are to manage and "steward" it well, as someone tilling and caring for a garden (Gen 1:26; 2:15). But that wasn't God's ultimate objective in creating the universe and people; His goal was to give us the very best and most precious thing possible, HIMSELF.

In history, God chose special individuals to clue them into His ultimate game plan. That included prophets and apostles; but the first person God revealed His plan to most clearly was Abraham. Gal 3:8 "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."" See, for example, Gen 12:3; 18:18; 22:18: "I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you." "Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him." "...Through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.""

God is not some heathen deity, parked in the clouds, poised with thunderbolts ready to zap those who displease Him. God is not capricious, or arbitrary, or an egotistical kill-joy! God wants to bless "all peoples...all nations" - and He has revealed His will in His word and through His Son, so we can understand what we need and come to a relationship with Him, through faith. God is in the "blessing business"!

We're told more specifically that the form this blessing takes is in the gift of God's very self through the Holy Spirit. Gal 3:14 "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." The best possible gift God could give us is not millions of dollars in a lottery prize - but Himself! His Spirit. He designed humans with this capacity, a spiritual side, that can hear and talk to Him and be responsive to Him in loving relationship. A faculty into which God can pour the fruit and gifts of His Spirit - love, joy, peace, goodness, kindness, and so on.

This is God's long-range blessing project! He's been very up-front about it. 3:8 says God "announced the gospel in advance" to Abraham - kind of "pre-evangelized" him over 21 centuries before Christ was born.

Funerals come for all of us. Each of us has just a limited time left - and we might be surprised by the quantity, if we knew it! As you look at your life goals - how do they align with God's long-range project? Are you focused on the right things, the intangibles that matter in eternity? Or are you preoccupied with heaping up "stuff", digits, trophies? Are you devoting time each day to develop and nurture your relationship with God? Or does that fellowship get crowded out by lesser idols? Do you really "know" God?

Don't be like those trying to enter the Kingdom of Heaven unsuccessfully of whom Jesus speaks in Mt 7:22f: "Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you.Away from me, you evildoers!'"

Know Him - it's about relationship. He wants to bless you by sharing Himself, His very Spirit, with you.


Few scenes in English literature seem as CURSED as that of the workhouse described by Charles Dickens, in novels such as Oliver Twist that opened the eyes of Victorian England to the degrading conditions found therein. An article in The Daily Mail describes what Dickens would have observed when as a young boy with his family, he moved in just up the street from the Cleveland Street Workhouse...

"From his window, he watched the sorry procession of starving, destitute people make their way to the workhouse gates to beg for admittance.He would have seen girls and boys of only six years old -- just a year older than him -- bundled into carts and transported like cattle, often hundreds of miles away, to work in the factories and mills of Britain's industrial heartlands, where they would be beaten as they laboured 16 hours a day in exchange for a few spoonfuls of gruel.He would have heard the clanging of the workhouse bell, the piercing cries of insane patients confined behind its high walls, the thud of carpet-beating in the workhouse yard and the sound of inmates' hammers as they smashed granite blocks into small chunks for road-mending.And he would have shuddered as he saw the thin pauper-coffins arrive to bury the dead in the graveyard behind the poorhouse."

What a hopeless, degrading, inhumane existence! Yet, that's very akin to man-made religion that supposes it can work its way to heaven. 3:3 Paul asks, "...Are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?" - that is, by keeping the law of Moses with its ritual and dietary requirements. Verses 10-12 talk about the CURSE such a workhouse approach represents: "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."" Once you start down this road, Paul warns, you are obliged to keep on doing ALL the law requires.

Paul had been a "Jew's Jew" before his conversion, zealous beyond his peers: but he found it a hopeless challenge. Romans 7 reveals the inner turmoil he experienced at never being quite good enough. 7:18,23 "For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out...I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members." Locked up as a prisoner tighter than the Cleveland Street Workhouse! And woe to you if you don't keep on doing the whole thing completely. James 2:10 "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it." Paul summed the "cursedness" up in Rom 7:24 "What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?" Who, indeed?!


Long before Paul's time, God was revealing to people a way to please Him and get right with Him that did not depend upon being perfect, stacking up an infinite supply of good works to earn merit. Paul's star witness in his case against legalism is the Old Testament patriarch, Abraham. Gal 3:6 "Consider Abraham: "He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness."" Paul there is quoting from the very first book of the Bible, Genesis 15:6. This faith-path to being counted righteous in the eyes of an infinite holy God is echoed in Habakkuk 2:4, which Paul refers to in v11 - "The righteous will live by faith." James writes in 2:23, "And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called God's friend."

But how can an infinitely holy and JUST God get away with accepting sinners as "friends" merely on the basis of their trusting in His promise? Justice requires that SOMEBODY'S GOTTA PAY, those sins have to be accounted for and "squared up". That's where the Cross of Christ comes in. A costly payment was made. Gal 3:13-14a "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..." To redeem is literally "to buy back, to ransom." Jesus paid the price for our costly transgressions. Abraham may not have realized it fully at the time, but He was trusting in God's ability to make a transaction that would cover the cost of his sins. Jesus took our curse upon Himself, so we could go free! It's His sacrifice that guarantees or underwrites the effectiveness of God's arrangement for forgiveness to be ours.

You've been "bought back". Recently my father-in-law received a suggestion from someone at the nursing home where he lives that maybe he should buy a small fridge to store his cheese slices he likes to have with crackers for a snack. We ordered one from Walmart, a nice handy 18-inch cubed one. But before we even got it plugged in, we received word that policy forbade residents from having their own refrigerators. Oops! Our mistake! How were we going to unload this brand new refrigerator? Would we have to go through the hassle of advertising online and selling it on kijiji or somewhere?

A phone call to the store allayed my fears. We could simply return it and get Dad's money back. The store bought it back - redeemed it - and the money went right back into Dad's account. With great relief on my part. Our goof was erased.

How much greater should be our relief and appreciation at Christ covering and forgiving ALL our sins and guilt in life?!


What worked for Abraham could work for the Galatians, and can work for you today! Recall God's long-range plan - to bless all nations through Abraham, who heard with faith. 3:9 "So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith." V14 tells more clearly the form that blessing takes: "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." It was partly because they'd experienced the Holy Spirit that Paul was so amazed they were taking another route. 3:2 "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?" They received the Spirit by believing. V5 "Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?" Answer: by believing.

When we believe in Jesus and receive the Holy Spirit, we become kin to Abraham, even if we aren't genetically connected to him or Isaac or Jacob. This was very startling for the early church to realize, that Gentiles could be accepted on an equal footing along with natural-born Israelites. Gal 3:7 "Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham." Keeping the Jewish rituals such as circumcision were superfluous: what mattered was trusting God, at the heart of the relationship.

Paul devotes much of Romans 4 to unpacking the implications of what Abraham discovered. The particular miracle in context was Abraham believing God could give him a son even though he and his wife were so old and Sarah had never been able to conceive. Rom 4:18,20-21 "Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations...He did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised."

How does your faith stand? Are you "fully persuaded" God has power to do in YOUR life all that He has promised for those who trust in Him? Can you trust God even with those deepest and most personal things, like offspring, and destiny, and what legacy you'll leave? That God is actually able and wanting to square up for all your mistakes and shortcomings through the cross of Jesus - He wants you in relationship so much?


As we trust in Christ and receive God's Spirit, we are transformed into His likeness. We become "children of Abraham" but also children of our Heavenly Father, beginning more and more to resemble Him in goodness, love, and mercy.

Paul uses an interesting term in 3:1: "Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified." The Greek for "clearly portrayed" referred to something being publicly posted, as on a placard or poster or billboard. NRSV translates it "publicly exhibited".

Paul in his preaching had so clearly portrayed Jesus as crucified that He was surprised the Galatians were so quickly falling for another line of teaching. Are our lives portraying Jesus? Are we like walking billboards, so that when people look at us, they see the One who was crucified for them?

Being a billboard for Jesus will lead us to act in ways that portray God's goodness in the midst of the world's seamy sordidness. Jim Guell (according to LifeSiteNews) is a retired insurance broker who lives in a mobile home park in Wisconsin. It's located directly across from a highway where there was a series of eight billboards. Six of them advertised two competing local adult stores. Guell recalls, "I got tired of seeing those advertisements, those boards, every time I came home...I look out the window of my home and they're lit at night and I thought, I've got to combat this some way."

A member of the Catholic men's organization Knights of Columbus, Guell contacted his local chapter who funded a design supplied by the decency advocacy group "Morality in Media". Cost to rent a billboard for 6 months was about $6,000. So now amongst those half-dozen 'smut' signs is a new billboard that says, "Porn Destroys Love" and, "What Would Jesus Say about Pornography?"

Guell admits he had special reason for wanting to reach people with the decency message, as he'd wrestled with porn as a younger man. He says, "So I know what kind of damage can be done and how much of an addiction it can turn out to be." His conviction about the overall situation? "I figured, well a person needs to take a stand and raise these issues, and let people know what those businesses really are."

Would that make you stick out like a billboard? "A person needs to take a stand and raise these issues..." May Christ's Spirit embolden us to act in faith that's fully persuaded God can do the miraculous, as we heed His guiding. So may others see Jesus clearly portrayed in us! Let's pray.