We have all kinds of pictures and games that challenge our focus. Commonly it is a picture or an object that has an obvious view and a "hidden" view. What is the obvious view and what is the "hidden" view is purely a matter of focus. When we look at the picture we all see the obvious. That is all we expect to see. That is all we look for. We see the "hidden" picture only when we change our focus, only when we look for it. It is essential to change your focus to see the "hidden" picture. Once you see the "hidden" picture, it is quite obvious.

old man's face

Look at this picture. What do you see? Do you see the face of an old man? If you see the face of an old man, hold up your hand. (Give everyone one a moment to look at the whole picture and see the obvious.)

Now look at the same picture minus two details.

lady sitting

What do you see? Do you see a lady sitting under a knurled tree? (Show the image that reveals the "hidden" picture. Give everyone a moment to look at the "hidden" picture made obvious.)

Look again at the first picture. Do you now see both pictures? Do you see the difference changing your focus makes? (Give everyone a moment to look.)

By using these images, I want to make a single point. Hang on to this single point. To change what you see, you must change your focus. If you never allow your focus to change, you will never see God's view through Jesus' eyes. Our focus always determines what we see.

Please take a Bible and mark the book of Galatians.

  1. First, let me focus your attention on the background of this letter.
    1. Paul wrote this letter to Christians in a number of congregations in the province of Galatia.
      1. By our standards and criteria, all these congregations were "young" first generation churches.
      2. These Christians had been Christians for a short period of time.
      3. For a crude illustration, imagine this situation.
        1. Suppose all the congregations in Arkansas were much less than one generation old.
        2. Suppose every resident Christian in Arkansas was converted in the last fifteen years.
        3. Suppose Paul wrote all of us a letter because he was concerned about a specific situation that affected all the congregations.
        4. That is basically what happened.
    2. What caused Paul to write the letter?
      1. Paul made at least one mission trip to the area, perhaps two.
      2. The result of his mission work was the existence of several congregations.
      3. When Paul's mission work in the area came to an end, some Jewish Christians visited the Galatian Christians Paul converted to Christ.
        1. Most of the Galatian converts were not Jews, so most of the congregations were composed of people converted from idolatry.
        2. These Jewish Christians were absolutely convinced that if these people did not adopt the Jewish religious system their conversion to Jesus Christ was meaningless (Galatians 1:6-10)
        3. So these Jewish Christians told these new Christians that Paul's teaching was not reliable because Paul did not tell them all they needed to know (Galatians 1:11-2:21).
        4. They had come to inform them of things that Paul did not tell them.
    3. What did these Jewish Christians do?
      1. They basically taught these people the Jewish rituals and system.
      2. They basically caused these new Christians to believe that their conversion to Christ was not enough to save them unless they adopted the Jewish system.
      3. Paul in his teachings focused the people on Jesus Christ.
      4. These Jewish Christians changed Paul's focus by focusing these people on the Jewish system.
      5. They said if they did not focus on the Jewish system, focusing on Jesus Christ would not save them.
      6. What these new Christians saw depended on their focus.
        1. Paul used most of the letter attempting to focus them again on Christ.
        2. He declared that the message these Jewish Christians shared with them did not focus them on God's work in Jesus Christ.

  2. Perhaps someone asks the question, "What difference did it make? As long as they were trying to obey God, why could they not choose to focus on Christ or on the Jewish system?
    1. That is not only an excellent question, but that is an important, critical question.
      1. We have Christians today who think "why" you do something is not important if you do the "right thing."
      2. For example, as long as you sing a cappella and take communion every week, "why" is not important if you just do it.
      3. It is not a matter of focus; it is a matter of doing what you are supposed to do.
      4. Paul powerfully disagreed with that conclusion.
    2. Look with me at Galatians 5 and allow Paul to show us the importance of having the proper focus, of seeing through the eyes of God and Christ.
      1. In verse 1, Paul said Christ intended for Christians to be free.
        1. Christ did not free the Christian to give the Christian an opportunity to go back into slavery.
        2. In context, if they accepted and lived by the Jewish system, they went back into slavery.
        3. Consider how simple it was for these new Christians to believe what the Jewish Christians said.
        1. Most of them were converted from idolatry.
        2. They offered sacrifices, they followed rituals, they followed what they considered were "right procedures" for doing religious things, they had rules for governing what they did, and they had priests (authority figures) to tell them what to do and to tell them if they were doing it right.
        3. These Jewish teachers were telling them in the past they just had the wrong system.
          1. They worshipped the wrong gods.
          2. They offered the wrong sacrifices.
          3. They followed the wrong procedures.
          4. They had the wrong rules, and rituals.
          5. They listened to the wrong authority figures.
        4. This was the Jewish teachers' point: their problem was not that they followed a system. Focusing on a system was fine.
          1. Their problem was that they focused on the wrong system
          2. The solution was to change systems: worship the right God, follow the correct procedures, adopt the right rules, listen to the right authority figures.
        5. Paul said that was not true.
          1. Paul said the focus was wrong.
          2. Justification before God is not the result of faith in a system.
          3. Justification before God is the result of faith in a Savior.
        6. The Jewish Christians asked them to change systems.
        7. Paul asked them to change their focus: replace faith in systems with faith in a Savior.
      2. Why? What difference does it make? If my faith in a system is based on the same emphasis that a faith in a Savior is based on, what difference does it make if I depend on a system or on a Savior?
        1. That is an excellent question! Understanding the difference is essential!
        2. This is the difference:
          1. When I place my faith in a system, I place my faith in me and my actions.
          2. When I place my faith in a Savior, I place my faith in my Savior and his actions.
          3. The same obedience to the same responsibilities totally changes meaning (a) if I place my faith in a system or (b) I place faith in a Savior.
          4. Paul said placing faith in a system produces sin and death, but placing faith in a Savior produces life (Romans 8:3,4).

  3. I ask you to focus on Galatians 5:13-26 for you to see Paul's focus and contrast.
    1. Look at verses 13-15.
      1. Surrendering ourselves to Christ gives us freedom.
        1. The issue immediately becomes how will we use this freedom.
        2. Paul said that if a Christian uses this freedom to indulge his or her physical desires, he or she does not understand God's purpose in making us free.
        3. God did not free us to indulge our physical desires.
        4. God freed us to love and serve.
      2. Think about the contrast:
        1. A system allows us to indulge physical desires as long as we honor the system.
        2. Christ teaches us how to love and serve just like he did.
    2. Look at verses 16-24.
      1. So every Christian man and woman faces the same choice: will physical desires determine how I live my life, or will God's Spirit determine how I live my life?
        1. If as a Christian I allow God's Spirit to direct my life, I will not allow physical desires to determine how I live my every day life.
        2. Why? As a Christian I understand that the purposes of God's Spirit and the purposes of my physical desires are at war with each other; they literally try to kill each other.
        3. If God's Spirit determines how I live my life, I will not allow my physical desires to interpret and apply God's law.
      2. It is very easy for me to determine if God's Spirit determines how I live life or if my physical desires determine how I live life.
        1. If physical desires are in control of how I live, I do the deeds justified by those desires as they interpret God's law.
        2. As a Christian I will justify immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, outburst of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and companion behaviors.
        3. Even though I am a Christian, even though I follow a religious system, as a Christian I need to understand that if I use freedom in Christ to indulge physical desires, I will not live with God when I die.
        4. BUT, if God's Spirit determines how I live and how I interpret God's law in my life, I will produce the fruit (singular) of God's Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
          1. Those qualities are NEVER in conflict with God's law.
          2. Those are the qualities of life produced in the person who belongs to the Savior Jesus Christ.
          3. That fruit exists in the Christian's life who deliberately executes his or her physical desires and passions.
      3. The challenge: let God's Spirit determine how you live each day of your life.
        1. Never place your faith in yourself by trusting a system.
        2. Always place your faith in a Savior by trusting Jesus Christ.

It is all a matter of focus. That focus will determine what you see spiritually. If I as a Christian live by my physical desires, I will use God's law to justify ungodly behavior and produce sin and death in my life. If I as a Christian live by God's Spirit, I will use God's law to produce spiritual life by letting it show me how to produce the fruit of the Spirit.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 2 December 2001

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