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And tonight our proclamation is directly related to the theme of what I will be speaking about. It’s taken from Ephesians 2:8–10. Ephesians 2:8–10:
“For by grace we have been saved through faith, and that not of ourselves; it is the gift of God—not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8–10)
Now I’m going to continue with the theme that I started on in our previous session; that is, examining the six great foundation doctrines of the Christian faith which are listed in Hebrews 6:1 and 2. I’ll just recapitulate them. Repentance from dead works, faith toward God, the doctrine of baptisms, laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. In our previous session I dealt with the theme “Through Repentance to Faith.” I dealt with repentance and I began to deal with faith. I want to go on this evening dealing with faith and the theme is “Faith and Works,” two simple words that are used very commonly in the New Testament and yet it is truly amazing how many of God’s people do not have a clear understanding of the relationship between faith and works.
Let me say that by faith we mean simply that which we believe, by works we mean simply that which we do. What is the correct relationship between what we believe and what we do?
I want to begin by just briefly stating the gospel. So many of us use the phrase “the gospel” and we talk about it as if it’s something that we absolutely know clearly what we mean. In actual fact, I think a lot of people speak about the gospel and they’re not aware of what the gospel actually is. It’s stated very clearly by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:1–5, 1 Corinthians 15:1–5:
“Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preach to you which also you received and in which you stand. But which also you are saved if you hold fast that word which I preached to you, unless you have believed in vain.”
And then Paul goes on to state the gospel. And the gospel is stated in three simple historical facts, it’s not complicated.
For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried and that he rose again the third day, according to the Scriptures.
So the gospel consists of three simple historical facts: Christ died for our sins, He was buried and He was raised again the third day. And where those statements are not made, the gospel is not preached, there’s a great deal of so-called gospel preaching which never actually contains the gospel. Those are the three vital facts that we need to lay hold of: Christ died for our sins, He was buried and He was raised again the third day.
And the first attesting authority is not the eyewitnesses who saw Him after He was raised but the Scriptures. That’s the ultimate authority. Paul says twice “according to the Scriptures.” Then he goes on to list various people who were witnesses of His resurrection. But bear in mind the final authority in all matters of faith is the Scriptures.
Now, Paul goes on to explain that if we will receive these simple facts by faith, without works, without what we do, righteousness will be imputed to us. We will be reckoned righteous. It is very important to see that Paul says it’s not by what we do but it’s by what we believe. It’s not by works but it’s by faith. He goes on in Romans chapter 4 to discuss the lesson that we can learn from Abraham for it says that Abraham had righteousness imputed to him by faith. Paul then begins to discuss the lesson that we learn from this. He says in Romans 4:
“Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.”
If you work for somebody and receive your wages, that’s not grace, that’s something that’s owed to you. But he says that’s not how we achieve righteousness. It’s not by our works, it’s not something we’ve earned.
And then he goes on with a most amazing statement, and I tell people if you’ve never been surprised by what you read in the Bible you’ve never really read the Bible, because it contains the most surprising statements. Paul goes on to say in Romans 4:5:
“But to him who does not work but believes on him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.”
So, if you want your faith to be counted to you for righteousness, what’s the first thing you have to do? Stop working. “To him who does not work.” As long as you think you can earn it by what you do, you will not receive it. This is the hardest thing for religious people. We’re so used to the idea we’ve got to do something to earn God’s favor. Favor cannot be earned. Grace cannot be earned. By definition they cannot be earned. And so, the first thing you have to do if you want to be reckoned righteous by God is stop trying. Do not work. That’s a startling statement to many people but then the Bible is a startling book. Much more startling than most of us realize.
What is the real relationship between faith and works? It’s not that works are not important, it’s the order in which we come. Ruth and I quoted a passage from Ephesians 2 which I will go back to. Ephesians 2:8–10:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God...”
We can’t even boast about the fact that we had faith because we only had faith because God gave it to us. It is not something we can produce from ourselves.
And then it says:
“....not of works, lest anyone should boast...”
And many places where it speaks about people who believe they’ve been made righteous by their works, Paul says no, lest they should boast. You see, a religion of works fosters human pride. And pride is the great basic sin. So, God has ordained a way of being made righteous which does not foster our pride.
If you consider the people who have rather complicated religions, and I don’t want to name any of them because I don’t want to appear to attack anything, but basically the more difficult their religion is the prouder they are. They’re doing something real hard and difficult: fasting, sacrificing and so on. This fosters pride. God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. So God has devised a way of being found righteous with Him that does not foster our pride.
I don’t know whether you’ve ever noticed but basically let’s talk about Christians. Christians who are very legalistic, very insistent on rules, are often not very loving people, have you ever noticed that? If you went to them for love you might not get much. Actually, legalism and love are more or less opposites. And so, we have to be on our guard continually against anything that nurtures pride. And religion basically does nurture pride. If it’s religion without the grace of God it nurtures our pride.
But, there is a place for works. They’re not unimportant, it’s just to get them in the right order. Ephesians 2:10 says it as clearly as anything I know.
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
So when God has created us anew in Christ, and the Bible says if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation, then God has appropriate works prepared for that new creation. But the old carnal nature cannot walk in the good works which God has prepared. You have to be created anew by faith before you can walk in the good works. Then the good works become extremely important. But you have to get the order right. First of all, the new creation through faith; then the good works which God has prepared for us.
I don’t know whether you’ve realized, you really don’t need to work out what you should do for God, if you’ve become a new creature in Christ, because God has got it already worked out. What you have to do is find out the works that God had prepared for you beforehand. Don’t try and make your own plan for your life, find out what God’s plan is. Many times it’s very different from what we would expect.
Let me give you a brief example from my own experience. I was an only child, I had no brothers or sisters. I grew up in boarding schools from age nine to age twenty-five. I hardly met girls except I had a few girlfriends. Basically, girls were a mysterious entity that I didn’t know how to relate to. But when God called me, I married a lady who had a children’s home and the same day I married her I became adoptive father to eight girls. You see, you would not have thought that was the appropriate thing for Derek Prince. If I’d planned my own life that never would have come into it. But it was the good works which God prepared for me to walk in. I find satisfaction, though I’ve failed many times, in knowing that basically I have walked in the good works which God prepared for me.
Now, let’s come to a little bit of definition and here is where we really need clear thinking. In fact, you really need clear thinking all the time! How many of you would agree with that? Well now, we need to discuss briefly the nature of grace. Grace is a beautiful word but it’s often been abused. I was preaching once in a certain church and I said, “As a matter of fact, the churches that call themselves “Grace” churches often know the least about grace.” And then I woke up to the fact that I was preaching in one of those churches! Nevertheless, it remains true. A lot of people who use the word grace don’t have any idea of what it really means. The root meaning of grace is comeliness, it’s beauty. And then it’s a beauty that God imparts to us because we believe in Him. He makes us beautiful with His grace.
And then Paul says—here’s the crux—in Romans 11:6:
“If by grace, then it is no longer by works. Otherwise, grace is no longer grace.”
In other words, in my language, you cannot earn grace. Anything you can earn is not grace. This is somewhat humbling for many of us. We’ve got to depend on His grace, we cannot earn it. Nothing we can do can ever obtain for us the grace of God. But by grace we have been saved through faith. And just when you’re getting excited about the fact that you have faith, remember Paul goes on to say:
“...and that not of us, it is the gift of God.”
You have nothing whatever to boast of if you’ve been saved by faith. God has done this to protect you from the greatest sin of all, which is pride.
I want to consider the relationship between faith and works, what we believe and what we do. And as far as I know, all I’m going to say will be taken directly from the New Testament and yet for many of you it will be startling and even shocking. I’ve discovered this merely to preach the simple New Testament message of salvation by grace is startling to most professing Christians.
I remember once saying in a congregation about this size, “Of course, Christianity is not a set of rules.” And then I looked at those people and they were shocked. I think they would have been less shocked if I’d said, “God is dead.” Their concept of Christianity was a set of rules. Maybe you have the same concept. I want to tell you Christianity is not a set of rules; you can’t achieve it by rules.
Let’s look at what Paul says in Romans 3:20. The theme of Romans, incidentally, is righteousness. This is the central issue of Romans, is how can we become righteous before God? Many, many centuries before Job had cried out in his agony in Job 9:2:
“How can a man be righteous before God?”
His religious friends all ridiculed the idea that anybody could ever be righteous before God. But God heard that cry and many, many years later through the epistle to the Romans He answered the question “How can a man be righteous before God?” And it is not by keeping a set of rules.
In Romans 3:20 Paul says:
“Therefore by the deeds of the law, no flesh [that’s no human being] will be justified in his sight for by the law is the knowledge of sin.”
Now I’ve read this translation which is the New King James. The NIV essentially says the same. Both of them put in two words which are not there. I’ve learned Greek since I was ten years old, I am confident in what I’m saying. They put in the phrase “the law” twice. The law. Paul doesn’t say that. He says:
Therefore by the deeds of law no flesh will be saved, for by law is the knowledge of sin.
You say, “Well, what was the purpose of the law?” The purpose of the law was God’s diagnostic to expose your problem, to expose that you have a problem which is sin. The law can diagnose your problem but it cannot solve it. It can only be solved by grace. So you need the law to get you to the point where you see you need grace, that’s its purpose.
James says in chapter 2, verses 10–11 of his epistle, James 2:10–11:
“For whoever shall keep the whole law [now he’s talking about the law of Moses] and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. For he who said do not commit adultery also said do not murder. Now, if you do not commit adultery but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.”
You see what James is saying? You either keep the whole law or you don’t keep the law. To keep ninety-nine percent of the law is not to keep the law. The law is one whole system.
Incidentally, none of us can anywhere near keep it ninety-nine percent. The Orthodox Jews say there are six hundred and thirteen commandments that you need to observe. And privately they’ll admit to you that they don’t observe many more than about thirty-two. No one today alive on the earth keeps the entire law of Moses. No one ever has done except one person. You know His name, Jesus, that’s right. He’d say to these people of His day, “Which of you convicts me of sin?” They couldn’t answer Him. He’s the only one who kept the law perfectly. You and I cannot do it.
I discovered when I was in the British Army and I got saved and I began to talk to people about being saved, they all began to think in terms of religion, not of salvation. I would find, generally speaking, each one of them would trot out a little list of rules that he kept. That was his righteousness. It was especially tailored to their own situation. If there was something wrong they were doing they didn’t include that rule in their list. I saw this is how the human mind thinks. I’m righteous by keeping a set of rules. No, you’re not. You could be if you kept the whole rule but you don’t, no one does. So you cannot say, “I keep so much of the law and that’s all that’s needed,” because the law is one single system. You either keep it or you don’t keep it. If you could keep it all, God would consider you righteous. But, you can’t. So, you’re shut up to the alternative which is—grace, something you cannot earn.
I’ve already pointed out, and I return to this point, in Romans 3:20:
“Therefore by the deed of law no flesh will be justified in his sight.”
Don’t ever try to achieve righteousness with God by keeping a set of rules. That’s what it means, because you will fail. If your rules are right, you can’t keep them. If your rules are wrong, you’re not made righteous by keeping wrong rules. Do you understand?
Now, let’s go on from there. The next thing I want to say, and this is where people begin to get shocked, is law and grace are mutually exclusive. You cannot benefit from both, it has to be one or the other. If you go on in Romans 6 to verse 14, it says:
“For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.”
So those are two mutually exclusive alternatives. You can be under law or you can be under grace but you cannot be under both at the same time. And if you’re under law you’re not under grace, and if you’re not under grace you are not under law.
The implications of what Paul says are very far reaching. He says sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace. The implication is if you are under law, sin would have dominion over you. The only way to escape from the dominion of sin is to stop trying to keep a law and avail yourself of God’s grace. I told you this would be shocking. I can see some of you are already a little bit shocked.
Now in Romans 8:14 Paul says:
“For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.”
Who are the real children of God? Those who are led regularly by the Holy Spirit. That’s the alternative to keeping a set of rules. You can keep the set of rules or you can be led by the Holy Spirit, but you can’t do both.
There’s a little illustration that I use which comes to my mind. I think I’ll use it just to make this vivid. There’s this young man, he’s just graduated from a Bible school. He’s got a degree in theology, he’s strong and healthy, and he’s got to make his way from a certain point to a certain destination. God says to him, “Now, you’ve got two alternatives. You can either use the map or you can avail yourself of a personal guide.” This young man says, “I’m pretty smart, I’ve got a degree in theology. I know how to read maps. I’ll take the map, I don’t need the guide.” When he starts off, the sun is shining, the birds are singing, but about three days later it’s dark. It’s the middle of the night, he’s in a forest, he’s on the verge of a cliff and he doesn’t know whether he’s facing north, south, east or west. A gentle voice says to him, “Can I help you?” Do you know who that is? The Holy Spirit, the personal guide. So he says, “Holy Spirit, I really need you!” The Holy Spirit gets him out of his position and they start off on the road again.
Then after a little while he says to himself, “You know, I think I was a bit silly. I could have handled that without any help. I really didn’t need to panic.” He looks around and his guide is no longer there. He’s on his own. “I can make it.”
Another three days later he’s in the middle of a bog. Every step he takes he sinks deeper and he can’t get out. The gentle voice says to him, “Perhaps you need me now.” “Oh, Holy Spirit, please help me! Only you can get me out of this.” And so he goes on with the Holy Spirit walking on the way that leads to his destination. Then he says to the Holy Spirit, to his guide, “You know, I’ve got a very excellent map. Maybe I could share the map with you.” The guide says, “Thank you but I don’t need the map, I know the way. Besides, I was the one who made the map.”
You see the message? How long will it take before we realize we cannot do it on our own? It’s not our good works, it’s not our keeping rules, it’s the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of grace. As many as are regularly led by the Holy Spirit, these are the sons of God.
And then in Galatians 5 Paul returns to this theme. I want to say to you this theme is one of the major themes of the New Testament. Anybody that has never really mastered this theme is in a state of twilight. I think that’s where a lot of Christians live, they live in a kind of twilight, halfway between law and grace, and they don’t know which is which and they don’t know how to avail themselves of God’s grace. In Galatians 5:18 Paul says:
“But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law.”
He said earlier as many as are led by the Spirit, these are the sons of God. So, you’ve got the choice. You can live like a son of God, be led by the Holy Spirit, or, you can turn your back on the Holy Spirit and try to keep the law. But you cannot combine the two. This is the essence of what I’m trying to say to you. This is where people get into a twilight. They’re half trusting grace and half trusting their own little set of rules which they’re keeping.
Please understand I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to keep rules. What I’m saying is keeping rules does not make you righteous. Did you get that? I think I better say it again. Keeping rules does not make you righteous.
Most of you belong to some kind of church or denomination and it has its rules. I think if you belong to that particular group you ought to keep the rules. If you can’t keep the rules you shouldn’t belong. But, keeping the rules does not make you righteous. In fact, it’s really a major source of division in the body of Christ because most religious groups have got their own set of rules. The Catholics have one, the Baptists have another, the Seventh Day Adventists have another, the Pentecostals have another, and so on. Most of the people in those groups think keeping our rules makes us righteous. Then they look at the people that keep a different set of rules and say, “Well, they’re not really righteous because they’re not keeping our rules.” So you see what legalism does? It divides the body of Christ.
The Baptists are free to keep their rules, provided they’re scriptural. The Pentecostals likewise. The Catholics, provided they’re scriptural. But bear in mind none of them are made righteous by keeping their rules. They’re made righteous by faith.
The problem is if we get focused on rules we’ll probably miss out on faith and we’ll find ourselves in that twilight again. Or, like the young man who thought he could do it by the map and ended up in a bog. Some of you know what it’s like to be in a bog. In fact, some of you are here now because you got out of the bog and you realize you needed the Holy Spirit. Amen? Amen.
Now I’m going to make another shocking statement. I wouldn’t dare to make it if Paul hadn’t made it first. You’ll find it in Romans 7. I tell you, Romans is a most wonderful book. I was a professor of logic before I became a Christian. I really was interested in logic and I think logic is a wonderful thing. It’s like a computer. If you feed the right information into a computer you’ll get the right results. But if you feed the wrong information in you’ll get the wrong results. Logic doesn’t give you the answers, logic merely enables you to see if your conclusions are compatible. And so, I would say myself of all the things I’ve ever read, the Bible is the most logical book. I personally do not feel intellectually inferior because I believe the Bible. That’s my personal attitude. I would suggest to you don’t you feel intellectually inferior. They may label you something like fundamentalist. Okay. Be a fundamentalist, whatever that is. Actually, it’s mainly used as a sort of thing to evoke people’s emotions against you. The people who talk about being fundamentalist haven’t defined what fundamentalism is. There are lots of words that people use just to put a black mark on other people but they don’t define them. Don’t be afraid of being called a fundamentalist. The next time somebody calls you that, say, “Please, would you tell me what you mean by a fundamentalist?”
All right. Now we’re coming to this shocking statement of Paul’s in Romans 7. The further you go with him the more shocking he becomes. Romans 7:4 and following:
Therefore my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another, even to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God.
Paul says at one time if you were a religious Jew you were married to the law. And for you to depart from the law and be married to somebody else would be adultery, spiritual adultery, unless you found out that the law had died. But through the death of Jesus on the cross the law was put to death. Do you understand?
This is a real problem for most Jewish people. They feel if they don’t try to keep the law, and basically they don’t do much about that, they are being unfaithful to their husband. There has to have a revelation that the law was put to death in Christ so that they could be married to another, the risen Messiah. And through Him both they and we can bring forth fruit. Do you understand? Fruit only comes by union. But what we are united to will determine what we bring forth. But if we are united, in union with Christ, then we will bring forth the fruit of the Spirit.
Now going on, Paul says:
For when we were in the flesh the passions of sin which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death.
That’s an amazing statement, isn’t it? The passions of sins which were by the law. In other words, Paul says, the law stirred up sinful passions. Can you absorb that?
Let me give you another passage in 1 Corinthians 15:56. This is one of those breathtaking statements.
“The sting of death is sin and the strength of sin is the law.”
Paul goes on in Romans 7, he says there’s nothing wrong with the law, it’s perfect. The problem is in us. You see, if I can put it this way, law works from without. It says do this, don’t do that. You say, “Okay, I’ll do this and I won’t do that.” And in doing so you are trusting on your own ability. That’s the problem because you don’t have the ability to do what is right and avoid what is wrong. But you see, the essential nature of our flesh is to trust in ourselves and not to want to depend on God.
Let’s go back to the temptation in the Garden of Eden. What was the motivation that Satan used? “You will be like God.” There’s nothing wrong with being like God. What was the problem? They would be like God without depending on God; they would depend on the knowledge of good and evil. That’s the root problem of humanity; it’s the root problem of religious people. We want to be like God but we don’t want to depend on God. The essence of sin is the refusal to depend on God. That is sin in its essence. It’s not some particular sinful act you commit; it’s an attitude of self-reliance which shuts God’s grace out of your life. And this is the hardest thing, I believe, that God has to deal with in you and me, it’s this attitude of self-righteousness. “I can do it by myself, I don’t need God.”
As far as I know, and this is just an opinion, there are only two kinds of creatures in the universe that wanted to be independent of God. One is the fallen angels that joined Satan in his rebellion, the other is the human race. Nothing else in the universe desires to be independent of God. The birds don’t desire to be independent, the creatures don’t, the fish don’t, the stars don’t . . . they are all happily dependent on God. But you and I, because of the fall and our fleshly nature, have inherited this problem; we don’t like to depend on God. We like to be able to say, “I’ve done it by myself. I didn’t need God.”
Dear friends, you need God in the worst way and you need God the most when you think you don’t need Him. And if you analyze your own Christian experience I think you’ll find that every problem that you’ve encountered in yourself stemmed from trying to do it without God, stemmed from the refusal to depend on the grace of God.
Ruth was in hospital some years ago just awaiting surgery. She was very weak, she wanted to read her Bible and she couldn’t. The senior sister, it was a Catholic hospital—incidentally, I’d like to say in America if I had to choose a hospital I’d choose a Catholic hospital because there’s at least a little bit of compassion left there. There’s very little in most others. This may not be true in New Zealand, that’s just a comment. But anyhow, Ruth was in this Catholic hospital and the senior sister who was well over 70 was going around visiting the new patients and she saw Ruth there and Ruth had her Bible but she was too weak to read it. This dear sister said, “Is there anything I can do for you?” Ruth said, “Yes, would you please read the Bible to me?” The sister said, “What do you want me to read?” Ruth said, “Philippians 2.” The sister said, “Well, that was the Scripture on which I was consecrated as a nun.” So they met together.
And then this Catholic sister shared something that had happened. She’d attended a retreat for nuns at which the speaker was a monk from the Trappist order. Trappists are not allowed to speak in their monastery. They have a vow of silence. But when occasionally they are allowed out, then they’re allowed to teach people what they’ve learned in their silence. And so, this Trappist monk was teaching these Catholic sisters and this is what he said, and she passed it on to Ruth. This really blesses me because I see that if God wants something to get around, it will get around! Here’s a monk who’s not permitted to speak, teaching a little group of Catholic sisters who were just a group on their own. But, this message reached me and I put it on tape so many times it’s basically reached the world! Who planned that? Nobody but God. Anyhow, this is what this Trappist monk said to these sisters:
Pray to desire not to be esteemed, not to be independent and not to be in control.
Would you pray that? It takes a little doing, doesn’t it? I’ve thought over that a long while. Well, not to be esteemed, I don’t have big problem about that. Not to be independent, I’ve realized independence is a mistake. Secure, sorry—not to be secure—let me correct that. Not to be esteemed, not to be secure, not to be in control. Well, it’s the last two that really troubled me. Can I really desire not to be secure? Well, okay, my security is in the Lord. But where it says not to be independent, not to be in control, sorry, that’s the hardest one for me. Do I really desire not to be in control? In other words, am I really willing to let God be in control? That’s the issue. That’s grace, when God is in control.
I tell you, I bless that dear nun, I hope she’s still alive. I thank her for what she contributed through Ruth to my thinking. See, I see this as the basic problem of humanity, is the desire to be in control, to be secure, not to be dependent. And the essence of sin is to be in a universe that was created by a loving, all-wise God and want to be independent of it. Don’t tell me, my dear brothers and sisters, you’ve never had that problem. Because, there’s none of us that’s always been satisfied to depend on God, to let God be in control. That is the real walk of faith. That’s the walk of grace. We don’t achieve it in a few hours. In fact, it’s taken me well over fifty years and I’m not there yet. But, I’m closer than I was, let me encourage you with that.
Now, let’s go on. The law stirs up sin. Why? Because it says, “You can do it. Go on, rely on yourself. All you have to do is keep these rules,” and it tricks you into self-reliance, self-dependence. That’s the way the law deceives us. And please let me say there is nothing wrong with the law. Paul goes on in the same chapter and says the law is good, the law is perfect, there’s nothing wrong with the law. The problem is in us. In our fleshly nature we all have a desire to be independent.
I’m sure most of you have watched a baby. I notice about two years old this desire really comes to the top. You say to this sweet little toddler of two years old, “Come here,” and she turns around and walks in the opposite direction. Huh? Is that right? That’s the old carnal nature manifesting itself in us. The law is God’s diagnostic to bring that problem right out into the open.
You see, if you went to the doctor and you said, “Doctor, I have a stomach ache,” he wouldn’t just reach up and take a box of tablets; he’d try to find out the cause of your stomach ache. In other words, before he prescribed a remedy he would seek a diagnosis. And that’s how God deals with us. He doesn’t offer us a remedy until He’s diagnosed our problem. Then we know we need the remedy in the worst way.
So, let’s go on now to Romans 10:4:
“For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one who believes.”
So if you’ve become a believer in Jesus Christ, it’s the end of the law. Not the end of the law in every sense but the end of the law for righteousness. As a means to achieve righteousness with God, Christ put an end to the law. When He died, that was it. When He rose from the dead He offered us a new way of being righteous with God which was not the keeping of the law. So, Christ is the end of the law for righteousness. He’s not the end of the law as a part of the Word of God or as a part of the history of Israel, or as an example of the way that God deals with people. The law is still there. But as a means to achieve righteousness, the death of Christ on the cross finally put an end to the law.
Now let’s look for a moment at the example of the Galatian Christians. Galatians is an interesting epistle. If you were theologically minded and I were to ask you, “What is the problem that Paul deals with in Galatians?” you might answer legalism. That’s the official theological description of this problem. Most of the letters that Paul writes to churches, he begins with a glowing thankfulness to God for all the good that’s in them. Even the Corinthian church, where there was a man living with his father’s wife, and where there was drunkenness at the Lord’s Table, he begins with a glowing expression of his gratitude to God for God’s grace. But when he deals with the Galatians he’s so, if I may say, hot under the collar that he doesn’t spend any time thanking God for His grace. What was the problem with the Galatians? Not drunkenness, not immorality, but what? Legalism. Paul viewed that as a much more serious threat to their well-being than immorality or drunkenness.
Now please understand I am not saying that God condones immorality and drunkenness but I’m saying it’s a much easier problem to deal with than legalism, because legalism is so subtle. It appears so good, we feel so right about it, that it’s hard for us to be delivered from it. But this is what Paul says in Galatians 1:6:
I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ to a different gospel which is not another, but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.
See, he didn’t have anything good to say. He just said, “I’m amazed you turned away so quickly.” Into what? Into legalism, into keeping a set of rules and believing that they could be made righteous by that.
And then in Galatians 3 he returns to this theme beginning at verse 1:
“O foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you?”
I remember years ago reading that verse and suddenly realizing that quote, Pentecostal or Charismatic Christians could be bewitched because there’s no question that these were Charismatics. It solved a big problem in my mind because it explained to me a situation that had arisen in a church I was pastoring. I won’t go into the details but I saw that my whole congregation had been bewitched by the wife of the previous pastor who had divorced her husband and married one of the Board members and still dominated those people spiritually. So let me just offer this as help to you. If you’re dealing with some problem that you can’t understand, it may be it’s this problem. The people you’re dealing with have been bewitched. Paul uses it in a very clear meaning. Actually, the Greek word for bewitched means “to strike with the eye.” They’ve been smitten with the eye, they’ve come under the gaze of an eye that bewitches them.
I had a Greek Orthodox priest come to me years ago who’d become Charismatic. He came to me for prayer, he said, “I’ve been bewitched. Somebody has put the evil eye on me.” He was a very sober man and he knew his Bible. I don’t want to spend time on this but I just want to open up to you the fact that this is a possibility. In fact, in some places it’s a probability.
O foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified?
Paul says, “I presented you the message of the cross. I depicted to you Jesus crucified for our sins. How can you have been moved away from that to some other basis of righteousness?”
This only I want to learn from you. Did you receive the Spirit [the Holy Spirit] by the works of the law or by the hearing of faith?
Were you baptized in the Holy Spirit because you kept a set of rules or because you heard the message and received it with faith?
Let me ask you that question. Is there anyone here in this particular session who was baptized in the Holy Spirit as a result of keeping a set of rules? The answer is no one. We need to bear that in mind. We were not saved by keeping a set of rules. We didn’t receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit by keeping a set of rules. We received them, as Paul says, by the hearing of faith. We listened with faith to the message we heard, we believed it and we received.
And then he says:
Are you so foolish, having begun in the Spirit [the Holy Spirit] are you now being made perfect by the flesh?
When it’s put that way it’s stupidity, isn’t it? If you needed the Holy Spirit to start you on the pathway of righteousness, how can you ever cease to be dependent on the Holy Spirit? How can you ever rely on your own little set of rules? But you see, this is very real.
Paul goes on in the 10th verse:
“For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse, for it is written, Cursed is every one who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.”
If you’re going to be justified by keeping the law you have to keep the whole law all the time. And if you try to keep the law and do not keep the whole law all the time, you come under the curse pronounced on “cursed is the one who does not keep the words of this law all the time.”
Is it possible for Pentecostal and Charismatic believers to come under a curse? I want to tell you it’s very possible. In fact, I know it from my own experience. Without going into too many details I was part of a movement in the body of Christ which was initiated by the Holy Spirit, sovereignly, in a work that none of us anticipated. God joined me together with three other preachers, all of whom are fairly well known. It was a sovereign act of God. We began in the Spirit but we weren’t going one year before we’d ended in the flesh. And the results were disastrous. So, I know this is real. You’re looking at somebody to whom it happened. God, by His grace, got me out of it I think because I read the Bible and believed it I saw the situation I was in. But I want to tell you, my dear brothers and sisters, this is not something from the remote past, this is something that’s still happening today. People who begin in the Spirit and then try to be made perfect by their fleshly nature come under a curse.
I think myself, if I may say so, that a large part of the church is under a curse.
Let me give you one other Scripture which is Jeremiah 17:5:
“Thus says the Lord, Cursed is the man who trusts in man, makes flesh his strength, whose heart departs from the Lord.”
Now, because it says his heart departs from the Lord it’s clear that such a man had a relationship with the Lord. But after he got that relationship he began to trust in man, in himself, and his heart departed from the Lord.
Well, I think that’s happened to the majority of the professing Christian church. I’m not going to give any names but most of the significant denominations or movements in the church that we know about were brought into being by a sovereign work of the Spirit of God, by the grace of God. They would have never amounted to anything apart from that. But how many of them today are continuing in the grace of God? I would say very few. So they’ve brought themselves under the curse pronounced in Jeremiah 17:5:
“Cursed is the man who trusts in man, who makes flesh his arm.”
Let me illustrate this from a personal experience. Ruth and I decided to sell our house in Jerusalem and we went to the real estate dealers and they said, “It’s a beautiful house, you’ll sell it quickly, this is what it’s worth.” For fourteen months it never sold. We couldn’t understand. But I was at a service in Christ Church, the church we attend in Jerusalem, and the rector there said, “I’ve got to pray with a man who needs deliverance from evil spirits.” Not all rectors talk like that but this one does. That’s why we like him. So I thought I better try and help him. I went along to this session and this man was a missionary from Africa who’d come under the curse, incidentally. I have to tell you without explaining, the curse was pronounced by a black African bishop. He was nearly dying. We ministered and he was delivered from a number of evil spirits and then we began to deal with the whole of his attitude to life. I said to him, “You know, it seems to me you’re really trusting in yourself. You’re not really relying on the grace of God.” I said, “As a matter of fact, I’ve had that problem.” I never planned to say this, it just came out. “I’ve had that problem because in selling our house I’ve been trusting on what I could do, I’ve been relying on myself.” Ruth with characteristic frankness said to me in front of all these people, “Then you’re under a curse.” I said, “That’s right, I am.” So I confessed it, repented of it and released myself from the curse. We left that meeting, drove back to the new apartment where we were living, and on the ground floor we met a real estate agent who said, “I would like to show your house to some customers I have.” Within two weeks the house was sold. Do you understand? The moment I was free from the curse God could move on our behalf.
I see some of you get the message. All right.
Let’s go on, where we are. Let me just say a few general remarks about this subject and then I must come to the positive. I’ve said this already but I’ll repeat it, law works from without leaving us to our own ability. Grace works from within supplying supernatural ability. We can only do it by grace.
In Leviticus 11:44 and 1 Peter 1:16 we have the commandment “Be holy.” This is a commandment from God. But if you read in Leviticus 11, it comes at the end of a very elaborate set of rules about what you may or may not eat. The implication is if you’re going to be holy you’ve got to keep all these rules. But in 1 Peter 1:16 it’s not attached to any set of rules. The message is “Be holy.” It’s a message from Jesus, “Let me live out my holiness in you.” Totally different. No longer relying on our own efforts but relying on the grace of God and Jesus to do what we cannot do for ourselves. You have the choice.
Now we’ve just got a little while left to consider the positive side of this. I want to turn to Romans 8:3–4 and just take note of what is said there. Romans 8:3 and 4:
“For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh...”
You notice, there’s nothing wrong with the law, it’s our weakness.
What the law could not do God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh [on account of sin] He condemned sin in the flesh...
Now, what’s the positive?
...that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
That raises what the Americans would call “the thousand dollar question.” What is the righteous requirement of the law? Have you ever given any consideration to that? I can answer you in one word of four letters, and it’s not a dirty word. It’s love. Love is the righteous requirement of the law and I’ll show you that very quickly through a number of Scriptures and then we have to close.
In Matthew 22 Jesus was asked by a lawyer—you know what the legal mind is like—in verse 35:
“Then one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question, testing him and saying, ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?’”
A specific question and Jesus gave an immediate, specific answer.
Jesus said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
What’s the key word? Love. Love for God, love for our neighbor.
And then Jesus commented, “On these two commandments hang the law and the prophets.”
Now, if I were getting hot, which I am, and I wanted to take my jacket off and hang it up I’d need a peg to hang it on. And the peg would have to be there before I could hang my jacket on it. These commandments are the peg on which the whole law and the prophets are hung. In other words, when you’ve read all the law and the prophets, what it’s saying is love God, love your neighbor. That is the righteous requirement of the law.
And then in Romans 13:8 and following Paul says:
“Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.”
I believe in being out of debt but there’s one debt I can never get out of, what’s that? To love my fellow Christians, to love my fellow human beings. I owe that, I’m continually in debt, I cannot get out of that debt.
Paul goes on:
For the commandments, “‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not bear false witness, you shall not covet,” and if there’s any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor, therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
That’s very clear, isn’t it?
And then in Galatians 5:14. It’s marvelous how Romans and Galatians kind of hang together. Galatians 5:14:
“For all the law is fulfilled in one word... [All the law is fulfilled in one word].”
“For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
And then a little further back in Galatians 5:6 it says:
“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything but faith working through love.”
How does faith work? Tell me. Through love.
All right. In James’ epistle it says:
Faith without works is dead.
And faith works by love so you come to this equation: Faith without love is dead. That’s a shocking statement but it’s true. You can have all the faith that you claim but if there’s no love in your life it’s a dead faith.
And then we read in 1 Timothy 1:5: I could quote it but I want to read it:
“Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience and from sincere faith, from which some having strayed have turned aside to idle talk.”
The New American Standard Bible says “the goal of our instruction is love.” When I read that I said to myself is that really the goal of my instruction? Am I really aiming to produce loving people? I’ve thought of some of the people that have sat under my ministry and I wasn’t so sure because I am essentially a teacher and a teacher imparts knowledge. Do you know what knowledge does? It puffs up, it makes people proud. I’ve learned to try by all the means in my power to teach without producing proud people. But I have to look back at some of the people I’ve produced and say, “Well, I didn’t do a very good job.” The goal of our instruction is love.
And then Paul says if you stray from that goal all you’re doing is idle talk.
Let’s just for a moment contemplate the church as we know it. How much idle talk goes on in church? How much preaching and teaching and activity that does not produce love? It’s all wasted effort. It’s all totally ineffective. Brothers and sisters, if you are in any kind of ministry, I want to challenge you, analyze your motives. What are you aiming to produce? And secondly, if you’re aiming to produce love, are you producing it? And if you’re not aiming to produce love all your talk is just empty words. That’s a far-reaching statement, isn’t it?
You see, law motivates us through fear but Jesus motivates us through love. He says, “If you love me you will keep my commandments.” Fear doesn’t produce the results. There are many religions that motivate people by fear and they produce the most terrible results, including some professing forms of Christianity.
Then I want to say, and we’re coming to the end, the obedience of love is progressive. You’re not perfect in love, okay. Join me, I’m not perfect in love. But that does not mean I’m not accounted righteous because until we achieve the goal our faith is accounted to us for righteousness. Can you receive that? As long as you continue believing, your faith is counted to you for righteousness. This is wonderfully exemplified by the words of Jesus to Peter at the Last Supper. He said, “Peter, you’re going to deny me three times.” Peter said, “Not I, never.” And then Jesus said, “But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.” What’s the really important thing? That our faith will not fail. We may make a lot of mistakes, we may even commit sins. We haven’t arrived, we’re not perfect. But as long as we continue believing, our faith is accounted to us for righteousness until we arrive.
And let me close with one Scripture from James, which I love. I don’t have time to comment on it but just let me give it to you. James 1:25:
“But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the Word, this one will be blessed in what he does.”
What is the perfect law of liberty in one word? Love, that’s right. You see, if you really love, really love, you’re the only totally free person because you can always do what you want. You can always love people. They may snub you, they may persecute you, they may even try to kill you. But they cannot stop you loving them. The person whose motivation is love is the only totally free person in the world. Amen? Amen.