Monday, September 1, 2008

Grace in Galatia

This summer, Derek and I have tried to be purposeful about studying the book of Galatians. We never spent hours in deep conversation over it, but did have a couple of good casual conversations here and there. Mostly, it's just been fun to study God's Word!

I did use a commentary, but only after I'd read Galatians through several times and done my own homiletics on it. (Thank you, BSF.) The commentary I read was by Scot McKnight and is titled "The Galatians NIV Application Commentary". Some of these thoughts I've taken from him. So, here's what I've taken away from Galatians.

Galatians was written by Paul and is thought by many to be the first canonical letter he wrote. I have also heard it referred to as a "mini-Romans". It's more directed to a particular problem Paul was seeing in the church, but the bottom line is still the same: salvation is by grace through faith in Christ, apart from works. (Amen!)

The letter was written to the church at Galatia to address their changing positions on one crucial subject: our means of acceptance with God. They were opting for a system in which grace was not crucial and Christ's work was not sufficient. The church had begun listening to the Judaizers, and turning to certain acts of the law as a means of acceptance. Circumcision and Jewish food laws were taking on upmost importance. Their faith was becoming a Jesus + Moses kind of faith. They were choosing a B.C. life in an A.D. world!

Enter Paul, who says, "If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed." (1:9) Accursed...anathema...condemned..."cut off from Christ" (Romans 9:3)...invoking God's final damnation and wrath on people who distort the gospel of grace in Christ. 

Paul goes on to say, "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if justification were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. "(2:20-21) 

So how does this apply to us today? The gospel has not changed. It is still Christ plus nothing. This book applies to any practice, attitude or theological belief that adds to the gospel and compromises the sufficiency of Christ and life in the Spirit. It's anything that you rely on other than Christ to make yourself acceptable before God. 

The crazy thing is that many things we tend to rely on are not inherently wrong or bad. It could be thinking one style of worship music is more acceptable to God or feeling like a failure because your read-through-the Bible-in-a-year plan died in March. Maybe it's keeping a check list you rely on: baptism, participating in lent, never missing a church service... 

Obviously, hymns are good, reading the Bible is good, baptism is good. The problem comes when I start relying on these things and teaching others they must do these things to be acceptable before God. Paul says let that person be eternally damned. (1:9) What I have to remember is that Christ is sufficient.  Of course you should sing praises to God, read the Bible, get baptized... But these things don't earn me salvation. "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Another thing I learned is this: I can keep every rule in the book and perfectly practice the Christian life, and never live in the freedom of the Spirit. Being free is having a relationship with God,  it is the result of the death of Jesus Christ, and it is life in the Spirit. "If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law" (5:18), and anyone who is "led by the Spirit" is a son of God (Romans 8:14). If we listen to God's Spirit and to the teachings of Jesus, we will do what the law was trying to tell us to do. We will love God and love others. We will actually be doing God's will.  

So, what does it mean to be led by God's Spirit? "Legalists are led by the law, hedonists are led by their desires, materialists are led by their possessions. But, Sons of God are led by the Spirit. What prompts their actions, what stirs their emotions, what guides their behavior, and what determines their careers is God's Spirit. Furthermore, sons of God do not fear and worry about where the Spirit will lead them. They know that God's Spirit will lead them perfectly into God's will and God's blessing so they march behind confidently and joyously." (from the commentary)

John Stott says, "True freedom is freedom from my silly little self, in order to live responsibly in love for God and others." Love is defined by Christ's sacrifice on the cross (2:20), inspired by God's Spirit (5:22-23), and expressed by doing good in our relationships (5:13-14, 6:10). Mr. McKnight add, "Being able to love others is not the result of discipline; it is a miracle". Water is turned into wine as the Spirit takes control of our lives.

Whew! I know I'm more than a little challenged to love well. So this is my prayer...for freedom in the Spirit and to allow the Spirit control of my life with the result of loving God and loving others well.


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