Galatians 6 – New Creation

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Paul closes his letter to the churches in Galatia by reiterating what he has just said along with a few practical applications.  Freedom gives us extraordinary latitude in how we can live, and yet there are limits to that as well.  However, rather than condemning those who sin, we have the freedom to love them and help restore them.  This is why Paul encourages mutual accountability within the body of Christ.  Not only does it help to bring people back after a sin, but it helps us to keep our own ego in check.

The reality is that, with freedom, comes a transformed life.  When we receive Christ, we are a “new creation.”  Even though Scripture tells us “the old is gone and the new has come,” we still struggle with sin.  Our impulse is to revert back to the legalistic notion of having to pay for our sins.  To this, however, Paul says No.  It doesn’t matter what you have done, all that matters is the New Creation that you are becoming.

Beautiful, no matter how lowly the start may be.

Jesus Christ doesn’t look at who you were, He is much more concerned with who you are becoming.  Part of who we are becoming is seen in the fruit that our lives produce as we embrace our freedom in Christ.  Paul reminds his readers that freedom gives us the opportunity to move toward each other in restorative, supportive, and loving ways the build up the body of Christ.

It is important to remember, though, that we sometimes confuse these actions with legalistic things that we *have* to do as Christians.  They aren’t.  Instead, they are things that we now have the opportunity to do to show the love of Christ and as a response to the grace of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.



Galatians 5 – Christian Freedom

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The Statue of Liberty has represented freedom for many years

Using the word “freedom” in a Christian context can often be confusing because so much if what we understand “freedom” to mean comes from the cultural context of the United States of America.  We are the “land of the free” and any of our national symbols have become synonymous with freedom and liberty.

There has also been a struggle within the church in the United States which has wrongly portrayed civic duty and patriotism as being part of our “Christian duty” along with the notion that the U.S. is a “Christian nation.”

While it may be true that the U.S.A may have been founded using some Christian principles, mentioning God in historical documents and the like, but it doesn’t take a lot of looking around at culture to recognize that we are certainly not a Christian nation, at least not anymore.

When Paul talks about freedom in today’s passage, he is representing the freedom from the bondage of sin that is given to those who believe in Jesus Christ.  He is also continuing the themes of the last several chapters, helping us to understand that our salvation is not based on works of any sort, but by grace through faith.

In this freedom, we are no longer bound by sin in any form and not required to perform any ritual acts to absolve us from those sins.  Paul lists a number of them here, following it by a list of effects that freedom in Christ has on our lives.  No longer do we need to look out for ourselves, but we are free to love others as Christ loved us.

I love the freedoms that we celebrate and far too often take for granted in the U.S.  However, the freedom we have in Christ is so much deeper and greater than any human freedom could ever be.



Galatians 4 – Know or Known?

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Though it may seem like his attention has shifted, Paul continues here to lay out the foundation of what it means to be in Christ by grace through faith rather than through works.  He uses the themes of slavery and adoption to illustrate this.  Where slaves do their master’s bidding, working at whatever they are told to earn their place, through Christ, we are set free from that.  No longer do we need to work to earn favor with God or our place in His Kingdom.

The same is true with adoption.  A child that is orphaned has no family, no inheritance, no future (or so it was at that time).  Orphans would often become slaves or worse.  Paul casts us as orphans until God, in Christ, adopts us into His own family by His grace.  When this happens, we are made heirs of God’s Kingdom and God calls us His child.

God calls us His child

Paul has spent a considerable amount of time talking about the role of faith in this argument.  Faith is crucial to salvation because it is through faith that we receive the gift of God.  It is important that we not confuse what Paul is saying here though because faith itself can be a “work” of our own.

Biblical theology points to faith as a work of the Holy Spirit inside of us, another act of grace by God.  We, in turn, come to a point of acceptance, claiming that faith as our own.  This is when, using Paul’s language, that we “know” God, or at least begin to know Him.

However, Paul makes a distinction here that is important.  He says that we are “known” by God.  He has been at work in our lives since the very beginning bringing us to the point of faith and salvation.  God knows us more deeply and more fully than we even know ourselves.  When we come to the point of salvation and know God, we enter into a family of believers where our “abba Father” knows each one of us and loves us unconditionally and eternally.



Galatians 3 – Old Testament Understanding

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God’s Grace is the same throughout Scripture

I have heard it said far too often that the Old Testament is all about the Law whereas the New Testament in all about grace.  The Old Testament encourages “works” whereas the New Testament promotes faith.  Painting in such broad brush strokes may reveal some general truths about things, but also may over-generalize the issue at hand.

As Paul is addressing the churches in Galatia, he is not doing so with a copious amount of books and commentaries on the life and teachings of Jesus. At this point, what we know as the New Testament was nothing more than a random assortment of letters and writings by some who were trying to make sense of everything that had happened as was happening in this new found faith.

Interestingly, though, Paul’s Old Testament understanding of who Jesus is and what He came to do is profound and deep.  It also directly challenges the broad generalizations that we tend to place Scriptures two testaments.

While it is true that the Law was given to prescribed how to live into the identity that God had given, the reality is that identity that we have from God has always been an act of grace.  Living into that identity has always been an act of faith, the so-called “works” a response to their identity.

Paul quotes and references more than a dozen Old Testament passages, all relating the message of the Gospel that has been given since the very beginning, culminating in the coming of Jesus.  God makes it possible for us to be reconciled to Him through the work of Jesus.  Faith, however, has always been a component of this; works were the result.

Where Israel got it wrong, and where we often do too, is that they thought that it was the works that make us who we are rather than the grace of God.



Galatians 2 – Flippity Flop

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Paul spent a long time working toward acceptance within the Christian community, an understandable hurdle to overcome when one joins the side of those he or she has been persecuting.  This was somewhat complicated by the fact that Paul was also moving outside of the Jewish circles and preaching the Gospel to Gentiles.  This made the Jewish Christians somewhat uncomfortable which was also understandable given the generations of exclusion that had taken place.

There is really one thing that Paul is addressing here that he does so in two different forms.  First, there was a process of forgiveness, healing, and acceptance that the believers had to go through before they welcomed Paul into the community.  In that time, I’m sure questions were raised about his motivations and such, but ultimately that time had since passed and he had become not only a part of the believing community but a leader within it.

The other aspect of this is Paul’s ability to and right questioning of Cephas, also known as the Apostle Peter, in his interaction with the Gentiles.  It seems that Peter was working harder at “keeping up appearances” with the Jewish Christians and doing so was leading other believers astray.  As we read in 1 Corinthians, Paul is uniquely concerned that our actions do not damage the witness of the Gospel, and that is what is happening here.

Division or Unity?

All of this is to once again prove Paul’s authority as an Apostle.  Ultimately this Authority comes from God.  His calling on our lives, however, would also be confirmed by others in the Church and in leadership positions.  It would also be confirmed by Paul’s actions as a leader.  He has the responsibility to preach the Gospel and live His life in accordance with it, and to be held accountable when actions and words don’t line up as was the case with Peter.

Thinking about this and watching the continuing political coverage of the current election cycle makes me wonder what has happened to our political leaders.  They say one thing and do another, or just say different things all the time depending on who they are in front of.  How have we come to such a point?  How are they held accountable?  It is a lesson for those of us in the church, both leader and layperson alike.  We cannot flip-flop our message, our lifestyle, and our values to suit whomever we are with.

We cannot flip-flop our message, our lifestyle, and our values to suit whomever we are with.  Yes, there is freedom, but never should that freedom be used to lead others astray.  Rather, we use our freedom to love.

I wonder what the government would be like if it lived out the love, acceptance, equality, and unity that it so often claims and far too often wields like a weapon against the other party?



Galatians 1 – God Alone

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How quick are we to change our minds about something or someone?  Commercials, political debates, even some Sunday morning sermons are designed to get us to change our mind about things, some for the better and others not so much.  In any case, we can be very fickle creatures can’t we?

We aren’t really sure how much time has passed since he had first visited and set up the churches throughout Galatia, but by the wording here, it had not been very long.  Already, he says, they are deserting their belief in Christ for a “different Gospel.”  It seems, though, that they were also quickly deserting him.  His authority as an Apostle was in question and, therefore, his calling by God as well.

The believers were dealing with a group known as the Judaizers, those Christians with a Jewish heritage that held to the legalistic practices of the Old Testament law.  These people believed that you couldn’t be in the Church if you weren’t circumcised amongst other things.  This group likely denied the Apostleship of Paul because he wasn’t a direct disciple of Jesus.

One God, One Gospel, One Word

Paul, however, counters both arguments with one simple fact: calling and salvation come from God alone.  There has never been a human practice or act that can bring about our own salvation.  Sadly, these Judaizers, like the Pharisees, completely missed the point of the Law as being a description of how God calls us to live out our love for Him.

In the same way, our calling from God is not something that comes from our own good life or works.  Rather, it comes by the grace of God alone.  Nothing we do can change this as Paul will later write in his letter to the church in Ephesus:

For it is by grace you have been saved,through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.



Introduction to Galatians

Unlike many of Paul’s letters, the book of Galatians may not have been written to a specific city church, but rather to a region with a more general audience.  The region Galatia is located in what is now the country of Turkey and was visited frequently by Paul during his three missionary journies.  While it is not documented directly, we know that Paul visited and set up churches in several cities in the region including Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13), Lystra and Derbe (Acts 14), and Iconium (Acts 16 and 2 Timothy 3).

 

Paul took several missionary journeys and often passed through the region of Galatia. Photo Credit: www.psephizo.com

Paul took several missionary journeys and often passed through the region of Galatia.
Photo Credit: www.psephizo.com

 

While the destination of this letter may be a bit different than the others, the content and layout of the book of Galatians, as well as the purpose for Paul’s writing strikes a very familiar chord.  The Judaizers, those Jews who converted to Christianity but still held to many of the ceremonial practices of the Old Testament, were both questioning Paul’s Apostolic authority and pressing Gentile Christians to abide by Old Testament laws, specifically circumcision.

Paul, responding to this situation, is quick to defend his authority as an Apostle.  He then writes a doctrinal treatise of the doctrines of Justification, Christian freedom, and faith.  This is followed by a practical application section regarding this doctrine, as is often the case with Paul’s writing.

The book of Galatians may be one of Paul’s earliest known writings.  Though there is some dispute as to when it was written, there is no doubt that this letter came very early on in Paul’s ministry.  Galatians is both eloquent and vigorous in its apologetic nature, defending the essential truth of the Gospel and the New Testament that those who believe in Jesus Christ are justified by faith in Him, through the grace of God alone.



Galatians 5:13-26 "Fruitful Freedom"



Day 340: Galatians 4-6; Faith, Salvation, and Freedom

Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia continues on as he turns from addressing some of the issues that they had dealt with in the leadership towards the issues that the church itself was facing, many of which were the same.  To do this though, he starts off by pointing out who they are in Christ Jesus, working to solidify their identity.  There is a very particular reason for doing this, something that is a very powerful reality that we tend to overlook in our lives, especially in the church.  Identity is powerful because it reveals at our core who we are.  Now you may be thinking, I know who I am, I am so-and-so the son/daughter of my parents, the husband/wife to so-and-so, father/mother of these kids… etc.  All of this is true and in many ways these truths define your existence.  There are even deeper truths about the reality of who you are as well, and this is what Paul gets at.  His point?  The Gentiles are fellow heirs of the promise given to Abraham.  They are fellow heirs because they are in Christ Jesus.  How does this happen?  It happens through baptism.  At the end of chapter 3 yesterday we read “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.  And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

This is the deeper reality of our existence and the truth of the Gospel that we proclaim through Baptism.  As I am of the Reformed tradition and denomination, we practice infant baptism, yet these things are still applicable in a very real way.  In Acts, Peter proclaims that “this promise is for you and your children, and all who are far off, all whom the Lord our God will call.”  We claim the same promise as the children of the Hebrews did.  In circumcision the children of Hebrew parents were made a part of the community of the people of God, engaged to be part of the covenant, and heirs with God’s people.  In Baptism, the children of believing parents are marked, claimed by God as His own, and made members of the community of faith, engaged to profess the faith and heirs to the promise that is in Christ Jesus.  This is the deeper reality of identity that Paul is talking about here, it is at the core of who we really are: claimed by God through grace alone.  Ultimately the prayer and hope is that these children will come to know Christ as their Savior, something that the church body promised to help with as the parents and the community of faith raises the child in the knowledge and understanding of Jesus Christ.

I think that as Christians, followers and disciples of Christ, we need to understand this identity a great deal more.  In fact, it is abundantly important that the church come to a deeper understanding of this in our culture today, one that seeks to define and redefine who we are on an almost daily basis.  Companies have identified us as consumer and advertise to us in a way that makes us think that we are defining and identifying ourselves by wearing their clothing and shopping at their stores.  Food companies sell us food that is more than just a thing to consume, it is a lifestyle choice, identifying us as a “Coke” or “Pepsi” person, or perhaps someone who thinks everything is better when we drink Dr. Pepper (I love Dr. Pepper).  You might be a vegan, someone with a food allergy, an organic, etc. etc. etc.  All these are ways that companies try to get us to become identified with them, tricking us into the false notion that we have to do these things because they are part of our identity.

The reality is that our identity lies in something deeper and greater than anything this world has to offer.  Our identity lies solely in Jesus Christ and the Redemption offered through His Blood.  This is what Paul is trying to impress on the Galatian church as they deal with all of these things.  Some people wanted them to be circumcised, others felt that they needed to follow the law, and still others sought identity through doing works to attain salvation.  Paul shows them that none of this amounts to a hill of beans when it comes to the identity that is found in Christ Jesus alone.  More than this though, Paul is showing the believers that, if they are going after these things as a way of attaining their own salvation, trying to win it through works, they are actually devaluing the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  Paul even says that if they are going to try and win their own salvation through works, they are going to have to follow the WHOLE law, something that would be binding and ‘enslaving.’

But true freedom comes through faith in Christ.  Paul impresses on them here that they were called to be free.  This statement doesn’t come without a warning though, freedom is good but with it comes with responsibility.  He writes, “You were called to freedom, brothers and sisters, only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.”  This paradox of freedom and slavery is often confusing to people; how can one be both free and a slave?  What Paul is saying here is that we are free from the bounds of the Law, something that was given because of transgressions to tell the people of God how to live.  However, what Paul isn’t saying here is that, because we are free in Christ, we can just live however we want.  Rather, Paul is encouraging them to use this freedom as a way of spreading the love of Christ, a self-giving, selfless, unconditional love.  Because of what Christ as done for us, we are free to love each other, to not worry about our salvation which is secure in Christ, but to live that salvation out in life in the Spirit, the fruits of which Paul describes in chapter five verses 22-26.

This is expressed in many ways and Paul closes his letter by talking about living together in the community of faith.  He says that we should be bearing each other’s burdens, lifting each other up, and even working to restore each other in a way that is both gentle and building-up.   He even points to this in the summary of the Law that he writes, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  He ends with a very profound statement that has great implications for the community of faith, “You reap whatever you sow.  “If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit.  So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.  So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.”



Day 339: Galatians 1-3; The Only Gospel is Jesus Chirst

The book of Galatians addresses some of the most pressing questions that the early church had in its infancy.  As the Gospel spread and churches were founded throughout Asia Minor, what was really the heart of the Roman Empire, issues started to crop up and people started to ask questions.  Along with this, there were disputes about salvation and even false teachers that began to preach other ways of salvation, and even skewed versions of the Christian Gospel.  One of these groups, the Gnostics, was a group that the Apostle John directly addresses in his Gospel and in the letters that he writes to the church later in the New Testament.

Paul’s writing to the church in Galatia, which was really a region that had within it over half a dozen major churches like Lystra, Derbe, and Pisidian Antioch, contains within it a great deal of material from which we draw our understanding of salvation by grace through faith.  Also addressed by Paul are some of the issues that the church leaders are dealing with, questions about circumcision and the inclusion of the Gentiles, and Christian freedom.  While this may not seem like a big deal to us today, we need to understand that the Church today is formed by the many issues and decisions that took place in the first couple hundred years of the church.  At stake here, in all honesty, was the proper understanding of salvation, which would have led to people feeling the need to do all sorts of works to earn their salvation.  Also at stake could possibly have been the church’s understanding Gentile inclusion in the promise of God, something that would have had ramifications far beyond a church or two in a Roman province 2000 years ago.

This is really the essence of what Paul is addressing here in the his writing though.  It doesn’t just have to do with the proper understanding of some obscure Christian doctrine, it has everything to do with the salvation of people’s souls.  Right from the get go Paul is speaking against those who would proclaim another Gospel.  He condemns those who would preach it and is astonished that people in the church would so quickly go away from the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  At the beginning of this letter he really doesn’t go into much detail about the nature of who and what is actually going on, but the fact is these people are trying to pervert the Gospel.

To be honest, this isn’t simply something that happened back then.  It is happening right now, in our churches today.  Across the nation and the world, ‘churches’ are growing by leaps and bounds preaching the health and wealth ‘gospel.’  These places preach of God’s desire to bless you, but only based on the amount you give.  This happens a great deal in the tele-evangelist circles too, sending you trinkets that are ‘blessed’ if you send them money.  Paul says that these preachers ought be ‘accursed’ because of their preaching.  Anyone who preaching a Gospel other than that of Jesus Christ crucified and salvation by grace is absolutely wrong.

Sadly, I think that sometimes stumble into issues like this as well, and it doesn’t just happen to your everyday, average-joe Christian either.  In chapter two of today’s reading we see that Paul has to address, of all people, Peter (the rock on which Jesus is building his church).  Apparently, due to fear, Paul is being sort of hypocritical in his actions with Jews and Gentiles.  There were those, at that time, that felt that the only way to salvation had to do with following the Jewish laws as well as accepting Christ.  They are called the ‘circumcision group’ here and apparently they were intimidating.  In any case, Paul stands up to Peter which, as Paul is explaining it, sends him on a whole explanation about salvation by grace through faith and not any sort of human work.

We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law.

I like too, Paul’s explanation of the relationship between the law and the covenant of Abraham.  Many people had and have come to the belief that somehow the giving of the law nullified the original covenant that was made.  Paul points out that can never overlook the original covenant, which is more than the law, it is a promise which is fulfilled completely in Jesus Christ.  The law was only put in place in the mean time, something to help guide the people of God until the promise was fulfilled.

Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed.  Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith.  But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.  As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.  And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.