A Clean Diet

“A Clean Diet”

July 9, 2019

Pastor Lucas Bitter

Intown Lutheran Church (Atlanta, GA)

1 Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— 2 and all the brothers and sisters with me,

3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,4 who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!

10 Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.

11 I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. 12 I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.

I think it’s fair to say that today, Americans care far more about what’s in their food than they ever have before. 

Years ago, people didn’t have time to worry about what was in their food – they were already spending all their time just trying to preserve it before it spoiled.  Imagine living here in the South before modern refrigeration.  Food would spoil so fast. .  .so people would do whatever they had to to preserve it.  Pickle it in vinegar. . . . pack it in salt. . . .pack it in lard. . . .whatever it took!

At other times in the history of our country (I’m thinking, for example, of the Great Depression) people didn’t have time to worry about what was in their food – because they were already spending all their time just trying to get food, period.  Money was scarce.  Kids were going to bed hungry.  People didn’t really care what was in their food, so long as they could put some kind of food on the table.  Some food is better than no food when you’re on the brink of starvation. 

But after WW2 we entered a new era.  Our country became wealthier and more prosperous than ever before.  And food preservation techniques had advanced further than ever before.  Now Americans could buy all the food they wanted at the supermarket, and use their refrigerator and freezer to preserve it as long as they wanted.   Food companies could also pump foods full of additives and preservatives to make them taste better and last longer, and have a more attractive color or consistency.

But with all this new technology came increased scrutiny and suspicion about what exactly is going into our food.  How come something like a loaf of bread – which in the ancient world contained 4 ingredients – now contains more like 25 different ingredients (Wonderbread pic), most of which I am unable to even pronounce?  What unintended side effects might all those additives have?  How many of them are going to give me cancer?

So even though we have all this bread-preserving technology, people are now going back to the way food used to be.  Whole food, clean food, organic food, etc. with as few additives as possible.

I think it’s fair to say that today, Americans care far more about what’s in their food than they ever have before. 

If only we thought the same way about our spiritual food.   

As Christians, we know what our spiritual food is, right? 

It’s the gospel. 

It’s the good news that God so loved the world he gave his One and Only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.

It’s the good news that no matter who we are and no matter what we’ve done, if we believe in Jesus then we get forgiveness and eternal life for free!

This is our spiritual food and it TASTES GOOD!  Because when we eat it, it removes all the pressure that we and others put on ourselves.  It reminds us that there is nothing else that needs to be done.  It gives us the confidence that we are we need to be with God, right here, right now.  But the gospel doesn’t just taste good – it’s actually GOOD FOR US!  Because this message – that we are saved completely by Jesus and not by anything we do – is the exact thing God uses to build faith and keep us connected with him all the way to heaven.

The gospel is our spiritual food.  It’s exactly what we need (when served in its pure, raw, unadulterated form.)

But what if we start mixing in additives?

Well, when you mix in additives to your spiritual food, the same thing happens as when you mix in additives to your physical food.  It becomes less healthy.  In some cases it even becomes downright poisonous.

And this is exactly what had happened to the Christians in Galatia.

For the whole month of July we’ll be studying Paul’s letter to the Galatians.  Let me give you a quick introduction to this congregation.  I’m not going to bore you with maps and stuff – just know that after Jesus ascended into heaven, the Early Christians went out and started churches all over the Mediterranean world.  And a cluster of those churches were located in Galatia (which would probably be modern-day Turkey.)

What were the demographics like?  Well, like many of the early churches, the Galatian congregations were made up of a core group of Jewish people (who would have been familiar with the Old Testament, it’s laws, and its customs) but they were reaching out to a Gentile audience from a completely different culture.  Despite the cultural differences, the churches were beautifully united by the gospel of Jesus.  Even though we’re all different from one another, Jesus loves us all and he has done everything necessary for us to get to heaven.  

Life was good in the Galatian churches.  But then something bad happened: Their founding pastor, Paul, moved on to start other churches in other places.  (That wasn’t bad in and of itself.)  But what was bad is that in Paul’s absence, a group of new people moved in.  They were Jewish people who believed in Jesus – but they believed that Jesus was only part of the equation.  If you really wanted to be saved, they said, ou had to contribute something of your own . . . and that “something” was following all the traditional Jewish laws of the Old Testament.  Essentially they were saying “If you Greek and Turkish people really want to join this thing called Chistianity. . . you have to become culturally Jewish.” You have to.  .

  • Get circumcised
  • Rest on the Sabbath
  • Observe the traditional Jewish festivals
  • Eat the traditional Jewish diet
  • Dress and act and live a certain way.
  • And if you don’t. . . . you’re not really saved!

This was a very dangerous false teaching because it was challenging the very heart of the gospel itself.

There is a big difference between “Jesus has done everything necessary for you to get to heaven,” and “Jesus has done some of it but you have to do the rest.” What these new teachers were advocating could barely even be called Christianity.  It was, as Paul said, “a different gospel – which was really no gospel at all.”  The pure spiritual diet of the Galatians was being poisoned.  And when Paul heard about it – even from halfway across the Mediterranean – he knew he had to do something.

What would you do if you saw your kid picking up a piece of garbage off the ground and trying to put it in his mouth?  Maybe a cigarette butt, or a piece of broken glass, or a nasty lime that must have fallen out of somebody’s drink and now has ants all over it/. . . Well, I know what you would do.  You would slap it out of his hand as fast as possible and say, “No!  We do not eat yucky things.  That is bad for you!”

In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, this is exactly what he is doing.  He is saying, on a spiritual level, “No!  We do not eat yucky things.  That is bad for you!”  Today’s reading is just the first 12 verses of this letter.  And I read it again, notice how fast Paul dispenses with the pleasantries and jumps right into the issue they are facing. 

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! 

“No!  We do not eat yucky things!  That is bad for you!”  And Paul spends the rest of the letter telling them why.  Here’s a related quote from chapter 4. 

8 Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. 9 But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?10 You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! 11 I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.

In other words. . . .both to former Jews, and to former Greek pagans, Paul says. . . don’t you remember what it was like to live without Jesus?

Don’t you remember feeling guilt and pressure every day like you weren’t doing enough for God?

Don’t you remember being afraid that one day when you die, God might not let you into heaven?

Don’t you remember the amazing joy you felt that first day you realized that Jesus has done everything necessary for you to get to heaven? 

The gospel is the best thing that’s ever happened to you!  Why would you want to add something to it that makes you a slave to guilt and fear and pressure again?  That doesn’t even make sense!

Of course it doesn’t make sense.  You know what else doesn’t make sense??  Eating a Twinkie.  Eating a 1,000-calorie shake from Cookout.  Dumping Kool-aid powder and an entire cup of sugar into a pitcher of water and then drinking it.  We don’t do these things because they make sense. . . we do these things because we have a sweet tooth.

Spiritually speaking, every single person born in this sinful world has a sweet tooth.  But instead of craving sugar, our spiritual sweet tooth craves works-righteousness.  We all want to prove that we are good people – better than most.  We all want to do good things for the world and then be recognized and praised and respected for it.  We all want to do good things for God and then be recognized and praised and respected for it. 

So maybe you can see where this is going.  When we hear the gospel (that our sins are forgiven for free by Jesus, and there’s nothing we have to do at all!) our spiritual sweet tooth says it’s not good enough.  We need a role.  We need a job.  Jesus can’t do everything by himself; surely there must be something we can contribute to help nudge us towards heaven.

But if we start thinking this way. . .

If we start mixing in our own good works with the gospel of Jesus. . .

If we start saying “Yes I am saved by grace, BUT I’m also saved because I’ve showed God that I’m a pretty good person,”. . . then the results can be devastating.
At first we might not even notice the change in our diet.  But we will soon become spiritually weak and sick.  And perhaps eventually we will spiritually die.

How can this be?  How can a little spiritual sweet tooth be so dangerous?  Well, there two reasons.

First off, when I add my own good works to the gospel, it robs me of my confidence and joy.  If my salvation is not entirely accomplished by Christ. . . if it is even just a little bit dependent on the things that I do. . . than my salvation is no longer completely certain.  I can’t know if I’m ever “there.” I can’t know if I’ve ever done enough.  I can never be positive that I’m going to heaven.

But here’s a second reason why my spiritual sweet tooth is so dangerous.  When I add my own good works to the gospel, it sets up an idol.  If I believe I am saved by the grace of Jesus alone, then I am looking at him all the time as my Lord, my God, my Savior.  But if I believe I am saved by the grace of Jesus PLUS by trying to be a good person, then in a way I also start looking at myself as my Lord, my God, my Savior.  The prouder I get of myself, the less attention I pay to Jesus.  And if I stop paying attention to Jesus. . . over time I may lose my faith completely.  And with it lose eternal life.

This is scary stuff.  This is why a pure spiritual diet is so important!

So how do you get people to keep their diet pure?  Well, it’s simple really.  You discourage them from eating bad stuff, and you don’t just tell them to eat good stuff – you actually come over to their place and serve it to them.

In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he does both these things.  So far we’ve heard his discouragement about eating the bad stuff.  But in other parts of this letter he actually serves them the good stuff.  For example in Ch. 3, he says this: “In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”

Do you taste that?  That’s the taste of pure gospel, which essentially says: “Everything you have done is covered.” Every sin you have ever committed – even the sins of giving in to your spiritual sweet tooth and trying to mix your own good works in with the gospel – they have all been washed away in the cleansing blood of Jesus on the cross. Every good thing you have ever failed to do, Jesus did it for you. You are covered. You are holy. You are pure. You are perfect. No matter who you are, no matter what you’re done, you get forgiveness and eternal life absolutely for free.  Because you are clothed with Christ.

That’s the pure gospel. It TASTES GOOD – because it takes away pressure, and gives you sure confidence of eternal lie.

It is GOOD FOR YOU – because it takes your focus away from yourself and puts it on God.  It is the exact thing God uses to build your faith and keep you connected with him all the way to heaven.

And as such. . . the pure gospel is a spiritual food worth sharing.

301 days ago, we held our Grand Opening service here at Intown Lutheran Church.  The theme that day was “A God Worth Knowing,” and I opened that sermon by saying “When people hear the word ‘Christianity,’ they think of all kinds of different things before they think of the gospel of Jesus.”  Some of the things people think of are the results of an unhealthy spiritual diet.  People hear the word “Christianity” and they think of:

  • judgmental churches
  • unnecessary rules and laws, and
  • Christians who are constantly comparing themselves and trying to be better than other people. 

Which is unfortunate because that’s not what Christianity is supposed to be about.

But God has given us the joy and the privilege of sharing something that tastes much better and is much better for you: the whole, clean, pure, organic, unadulterated gospel.  The message that “Jesus has done everything necessary for us to get to heaven.”  The message that “despite what you’re heard and experienced from churches in the past – we actually have a God Worth Knowing.” That message TASTES GOOD because it lifts the pressure off people’s shoulders and assures them that through faith in Jesus they will be in heaven one day. That message is GOOD FOR PEOPLE because it builds a connection of faith with God that starts here on earth and lasts forever in heaven.

May God bless each one of us with a clean spiritual diet that is focused on Jesus alone and not our good works.

May God help us to share that wonderful good of the gospel with many people.

God grant it, for Jesus’ sake.  Amen.