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.”