If you try and build a ladder of your own good deeds all the way into heaven, it'll only come toppling down.
Morning. David Sorn. Lead Pastor here at Renovation Church.
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always really liked Skyscrapers. They’re just fascinating to look at.
I think part of the reason I became fascinated with skyscrapers, is I watched so much of the Minneapolis Skyline develop as a kid.
When I was a kid, it felt like every time we made the drive from Cambridge to my relatives in Southern Minnesota, they were putting up another skyscraper in Minneapolis.
Here’s a fact that may only interest a nerd like me: 7 of the 15 tallest buildings in Minneapolis were built in a 5 year period from 1987-1992.
(Show Picture of Minneapolis Skyline in 1980’s)
(Show picture of skyline today)
And, all the around the world, we keep building skyscrapers taller and taller.
The tallest one in the world is now in Dubai. It’s 2,717 feet tall.
Just about 4 times taller than the IDS tower in Minneapolis!
The awesomeness of skyscrapers aside, as much as we might dream about it, we’re never going to actually scrape the sky…
And even if we do, we can’t build our way to God.
Not on our own.
But sometimes it feels like we can.
We are going to look at a passage in the Bible today that’s going to show us how we actually reach God…
And it’s going to show us that we often naturally feel that it should be by building our way there…but that’s NOT really the way.
We are continuing today in our “Gift Vs. Reward” series where we are verse-by-verse teaching through the Book of Galatians.
Galatians was a letter written by the Apostle Paul to one of the early Christian churches in Galatia (which is in modern day Turkey)
He’s writing because some people came to town after Paul and said that if people really want to be saved (forgiven, offered eternal life) they need to believe in Jesus and obey lots of Jewish laws.
Where Paul knows that we are saved simply by believing in Jesus and trusting in Him w/ our lives.
Not by our works.
If you’re visiting for the first time today (welcome) or you were gone last week…Last week, we were in the middle of chapter 2, where Paul opposed the disciple Peter because Peter wasn’t properly living out the Gospel.
The Gospel is the “Good News” that if we confess our sin to God, and believe in our hearts that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, that we will be forgiven.
And Peter knew that, but he had fallen back into old ways and started living a lifestyle that made it seem like you had to earn your way to God.
You know…build a ladder up to him…w/ your good deeds
So today, our passage is kind of a continuation of that passage.
Paul isn’t necessarily recounting his conversation word for word anymore, but he’s in a sense sharing more of his broader answer to Peter’s problem with the Galatians.
And today is perhaps one of the, if not THE, most complicated passages in Galatians.
But I think you’ll find as we unpack this today, that there is SO MUCH in God’s Word.
By the way, today is a great example of why church is important. Or reading books on the Bible.
There are just some tough passages in the Bible.
And, yes, while we need to read on our own and not just be dependent on someone else for our growth…there’s such a great advantage to having people teach through tough passages.
So let’s dive in. We’ll start w/ just two verses.
We’re on page 943
I think you might want a Bible today, even if you normally don’t.
Or, you can look on your smartphone if that’s easier.
(Galatians 2:15-16) – NIV
“We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles 16 know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.
So Paul starts off by saying that “we are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles”
He’s not saying that all Gentiles are sinners and Jews are not.
But that was just a phrase that Jews used back in the day
They honestly looked at themselves as Holy because they obeyed the Jewish Laws from the OT, and the Gentiles were just broadly labeled sinners because they neither had the law or obeyed it
Then in verse 16, Paul makes what is kind of the thesis statement of Galatians…and really much of the entire Bible: We are not justified by works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.
In other words you will never be made right in God’s eyes by works of the law.
What does “Works of the law” mean?
Well, for the Jews, that meant obeying all the laws God put in place so they could live a holy life:
Some of it was about how to treat other people. How to honor God. And much of it was about how to live God-honoring lives themselves: the Sabbath, food laws, you name it.
And for many Jews, they felt by observing these laws, it made them right w/ GOd
They thought this is how they earned salvation. By being “Good enough” for God.
Interestingly enough, although many Jews thought this…like the Pharisees and more, this isn’t what the Old Testament says.
And this is an unbelievably common misconception in modern-day Christianity.
Jews were saved by their faith in God.
Yes, they had a lot of rules in their law. And their law was a MAJOR part of their faith. And they had sacrifices as symbols of their forgiveness. But the original design was not for the law to be their means of salvation.
But, groups like the Pharisees turned it into a group of laws where you could earn your way into Salvation. Into being a good person.
But Paul is saying, that it doesn’t’ work like that.
Salvation is not a trophy that you earn. It’s not a reward.
It’s a gift.
Jesus died for us.
And we are saved when we trust our lives in Him…not by impressing him with our good deeds.
This gets worked out a bit more in the following verses:
(Galatians 2:17-18) – NIV
17 “But if, in seeking to be justified in Christ, we Jews find ourselves also among the sinners, doesn’t that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! 18 If I rebuild what I destroyed, then I really would be a lawbreaker.
Whenever I read these verses, I usually say, “Huh??”
So let’s walk through it slowly.
Here’s what happened:
Many of the Jewish Christians were concerned that if they didn’t have to follow the Jewish laws anymore (dietary laws, circumcision, etc.), weren’t they then a sinner like the rest of the Gentiles?
“It’s hard for us to understand, but for so long, many of these Jews had lived with the understanding that living out the law was what made them holy
So the question was asked: “Wait, if I follow and trust in Jesus, but leave some of these special Jewish customs behind, isn’t Jesus therefore leading me into sin!?!?”
But Paul says, “On the contrary! Absolutely not!”
Paul says, “Not a sinner at all. In fact, the real sin would be to go back,”
Paul says in verse 18, “If I rebuild what I destroyed, then I really would be a lawbreaker.”
Sometimes in really difficult passages, it’s helpful to look at a more paraphrased translation.
Check out the same 2 verses in the New Living Translation
(Galatians 2:17-18) – NEW LIVING TRANSLATION
But suppose we seek to be made right with God through faith in Christ and then we are found guilty because we have abandoned the law. Would that mean Christ has led us into sin? Absolutely not! 18 Rather, I am a sinner if I rebuild the old system of law I already tore down.
In other words, Paul is saying, the real sin is to go back to trying to earn your way to God, once you’ve already realized that you can’t earn your way to God.
Which is what Peter did last week earlier on in the chapter.
Once you say that you are only saved by faith…you can’t go back to trying to earn your way to God.
But I tell you what…it’s incredibly tempting.
See because, we love to do it ourselves.
We don’t want God to do everything for us.
We prefer the credit ourselves.
But here’s really how Salvation works.
Because someday you are going to die. Could be tomorrow, could be 50 years from now, but your death will come.
And when we die, we’ll go to 1 of 2 places: Eternity in Heaven, or Eternity in Hell.
So understanding how Salvation works…how we go to 1 or the other, is the most important thing you could ever learn in your life.
John Piper, the former Senior Pastor at Bethlehem Baptist in Minneapolis, who just retired at the age of 67, after an incredible run…describes it this way:
Salvation is like a train.
And you are just one of the cars on the train.
But how do you move? How do you get to heaven?
Well, the engine that pulls you along is God’s grace.
It’s the free gift of forgiveness offered in Jesus Christ.
And what makes the train go….what makes it take a mysterious course from here to heaven….is our faith.
It’s our trusting in Jesus for his grace.
But here’s what happened in Paul’s day…and it’s still happening all the time today.
The Pharisees (who were just overly religious Jews), and many others, they took that railroad track, lifted it up on end, leaned it against the door of heaven, and turned it into a ladder to climb.
And they made a long list of rules, of steps on the ladder, that people had to climb to demonstrate their moral fitness to enter into heaven.
And if you climbed all the steps, on your own, and did enough good, you might make it there.
But it doesn’t work like that.
You ever climbed a tall ladder?
The taller the ladder the more unstable it is.
I get nervous where there are more than 5 steps, I can’t imagine what it would be like trying to build a ladder to heaven.
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to go to the largest skyscraper in America, The Sears Tower (which is now actually called the Willis Tower)
And when you get to the top floor, the 108th floor, and look out, the floor actually sways.
It’s MINUTE, but you can actually slightly feel it swaying in the wind.
And whether it’s a skyscraper or a ladder, they just serve as reminders that we can’t actually build our way to God.
If we try, it’s going to fall over.
But you can’t build yourself a ladder of your own goodness that’ll stretch into the throne room of God, and then declare, “Hey God! Look at me, I’m so good that I earned my way right up into your presence!”
Your ladder will fall over before you even get 1/100th of the way there.
And this is the ladder that Paul is tearing down.
This is why he says in verse 18, look at it again:
(Galatians 2:18) – NIV
If I rebuild what I destroyed, then I really would be a lawbreaker.
He’s saying to the Jewish Christians, “Get past your old ways where you just called everyone who wasn’t a Jew like you a “sinner,”
The bigger sin, ironically is when someone realizes, they absolutely can’t get there on their own.
They can’t build their way to God by obeying a bunch of rules…and then tries to do it anyway!
And thus it’s crazy for someone like Peter to try and rebuild what he already destroyed…to rebuild that ladder, after he already took it down and was riding in the train of God’s grace.
And doing this is a bigger problem than we may even realize.
Let’s read on:
(Galatians 2:19-21) – NIV
19 “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”
Paul says, “I died to the law, so that I might live”
He just simply means that he died to it as an instrument of gaining acceptance from God.
He’s done with trying to win God’s approval like some sort of trophy.
That part of his life is dead to Him.
If you really want to LIVE in your walk with God.
Then believe the Gospel, not just for your salvation, but for your life…every day.
If you really want to come alive in your faith….start living like Paul, and put to death those thoughts that you have like:
“I did this….I’m not sure if God loves me”
“I don’t know if he could forgive me for this”
“I can’t even pray right now cuz of what I’ve done”
Paul says, “You take those thoughts and you shoot them right in the face!” “You take ‘em to the woodshed”
We die to that.
That’s law-thinking. That’s the type of thinking we do when Salvation is a Reward. Is a ladder.
But it’s not a reward. It’s a gift.
So we’re going to take those thoughts and say, “Stop lying to me. I’M FORGIVEN!!”
We’ve been crucified with Christ now.
Again, let me ask, “What does that even mean?”
I know I’ve said that a lot in this series, but I think too often in Christianity we just spout out Christian phrases like, “Pick up my cross” or “I’ve been crucified with Christ” and we don’t even really know what we’re saying…
See…when Jesus died, our ladders fell.
And we died.
If Christ died, so did we.
So did our chances of making some ladder skyscraper into heaven.
We can’t make it on our own.
Our only shot at life is by “FAITH in the SON OF GOD” as the passage says.
We’ve been crucified w/ Christ
Let me show verse 21 again because I think it’s one of the most overlooked verses in all of the Bible…especially to American Christians.
Look at verse 21 once more
(Galatians 2:21) – NIV
21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”
If righteousness….if getting right w/ God (being saved) could be gained through the law (being a good person), than Jesus died for nothing.
I remember not long after I became a Christian I was so struck by this concept.
I almost felt foolish that I had been hearing about Jesus most of my life, and I had never seen this.
And in reality….this is where the majority of people in our country are right now.
Just like the Jews back in the day thought they were fine in God’s eyes because…well…look at their lives…they didn’t murder anyone…they’re good people…they kept the Sabbath…they follow God’s laws.
And 2,000 years later this is perhaps the most compelling argument to the lost world in which we live.
Because I meet people all the time who were just like me before I started a relationship with Jesus….
and if I ask, “So do you think you’re going to heaven” (which remember is THE most important question)
They say, “Well, I’m a good person. I haven’t murdered anyone. I didn’t commit adultery. I don’t steal from people.”
Well, what are they saying?
I’ll tell you exactly what they’re saying…because I said this for the majority of my life.
“My ladder is tall enough to reach to heaven.“
I have accomplished enough good deeds, and have avoided enough bad deeds to build my moral ladder up into the throne room of the almighty God for all of eternity
But paul points out in great simplicity what many of us have missed our whole lives:
If you could be saved just by being a good person, then WHY IN THE WORLD DID GOD LET PEOPLE MURDER HIS OWN SON?
Think about that.
If you could get into heaven, build your ladder right up there, then what exactly did Jesus die for?
If you could do this on your own, then his death his worthless.
Then he “died for nothing” as Paul says.
But you can’t get there on your own.
And if you try…your ladder will fall over…into the depths of hell.
Because the deep reality is we fall way short of God’s standards.
One of the remaining purposes of God’s law is to show us that we need Him. That we can’t do it on our own.
His law is not the broom that cleans the room, it’s the light that shows us the room is dirty.
That with out Jesus…we’ll never make it.
Because we’ve sinned against God and other people. We ignore him, we don’t live for Him.
And at the end of our lives, the Bible says, we will all stand before God to face judgment.
But perhaps this judgment isn’t what you’re thinking.
Because God is indeed the judge. And he will indeed bring justice, but perhaps in a way that might surprise you.
Because God doesn’t want you to perish. He doesn’t want you to reject him, to go to hell. He wants to spend eternity with you.
So here’s how the judgment scene is going to play out.
Every single one of us will be pronounced guilty.
Because we’re all guilty of sin.
No one’s going to sneak into heaven on a ladder of good deeds that they built themselves.
But 2,000 years ago…God, because he’s more in love w/ you than you could ever imagine, sent his son Jesus to earth….to take your punishment for you.
It’s unbelievable, but he did it.
See, God didn’t just overlook your sin.
It wasn’t as if he said, “uh…I don’t’ want to look at that!
No, he took in a deep long look at your sin, and THEN said, “I want to offer you something. What if…I had my son pay the penalty for you?”
See, it’s not that we are “not guilty.” We are guilty.
But today, you have the opportunity to be forgiven because Jesus took the penalty for YOU!!
That’s why he died!
That’s the GIFT that sits in front of you.
THIS is what Christianity is about.
We’ve sadly, in so many of our American churches, turned Christianity into a group of people that come together and study some neat moral teachings that Jesus said…things that will improve our lives and such
But Paul tells us, if that’s what it’s about….
Seriously, if Jesus to you is just about teaching you how to live a nicer life, than he died for nothing.
Why would God have let him be killed for that?!?!?
But he died for a purpose.
He died to save you.
Because you can’t save yourself.
And our own, without him, we stand condemned.
But with Him, we can be forgiven…of everything.
And the Bible says that if we confess with our mouth that He is Lord, and we believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead, then we will be saved
Then we will be forgiven. Of everything. And will spend eternity, not in hell, but in heaven. That’s us opening the GIFT.
But I must be honest with you, it isn’t just a mental assent to these facts.
Even the devil believes in his head that Jesus died and was resurrected. He watched it happen.
Putting your faith in Jesus as your Savior is a matter of total surrender.
It’s saying, God, I trust that you died to save me. That I can’t do it on my own. My ladder will fall down.
I believe in you, and I will follow you with my life.
And if you’ve never done that before, you’ve never made that decision, you oughta make it today.
It’ll be the best decision of your life.
It’s the most amazing thing in the world.
And I believe in a church like this, there are probably a number of people in this room…and maybe you’ve even been around the whole church-thing for a while….but in your heart…you were still just trying to build a ladder of your own goodness.
If you’ve never given your life to Christ before…you’ve never told him that you really believe that he died for YOU…and that you trust Him, and only Him, for your salvation, and thus you’ll follow Him w/ your life.
If you’ve never done that before…let’s do it this morning.
Let’s cross the line of faith and let God change your life!
Here on earth and for forever.
In fact, let’s all bow our heads and close our eyes…as I want this to be a special moment between you and God.
If you want to believe in what Jesus did for you and commit your life to him (to make Him your leader & forgiver) to be completely forgiven! If that’s you…and you’ve never done this before…in just a moment, I’m going to ask you to stand where you are.
We’ll all have our eyes closed, so this is between you & God
But I believe today, it’s important for you to stand and say in your heart, “You died for me…for ME…I believe. I’ll follow now”
So wherever you are in this room right now. If you’d like to become a Christian, and accept the Salvation of God, Stand where you are!
If you’re standing right now, would you pray this prayer with me…
It’s not a magic prayer…but just a prayer to tell God where you’re at…and the Bible says, we 1) believe in our hearts and 2) confess with our mouths.
So I want you to say it out loud with me. Repeat after me
IN fact, there are a lot of other believers already in the room, and this is what we believe.
So, let’s all say it together with these new believers.
EVERYONE repeat after me with these new believers.
I confess to you, that I have sinned against you.
But God, I believe, that you sent your Son Jesus, to take my place
And God, I thank you, for forgiving my sins.
And now I commit, to following you, with my life.
AMEN!! Let’s just clap and praise God.
Let me thank Him and PRAY.
If you gave your life to Christ today, I need you to do just 1 thing for me
Right after the service today, I want you to go to the back of the room for just a moment.
There’s a table and a sign back there that says “FOLLOW-UP”
There will be some incredibly nice people there (they have lanyards on) who want to give you some incredible tools to help you get started in your relationship faith
Won’t take you very long. But absolutely go back there.
Let me just pray & thank God!
Copyright: David Sorn
Renovation Church in Blaine, MN
You may use this material all you like! We only ask that you do not charge a fee and that you quote the source and not say it is your own.