Readings & reflections for this week:
September 22 - Galatians 1
September 23 - Galatians 2
September 24 - Galatians 3
September 25 - Galatians 4
September 26 - Galatians 5
September 27 - Galatians 6
This week we move into the Book of Galatians. In the lineup of Paul’s churches to whom he
wrote letters, two stand out as the “bad boys” of the church world: the
Corinthians and the Galatians. The
Corinthian problem was “loose living”; the Galatians’ issue was uptight
legalism. A group of Pharisaical Christians had come through town and tried to
convince the mostly Gentile Galatians that if they did not keep the Mosaic law
as the Jews did they were not really Christians. We don’t know all the ramifications of this
teaching but I imagine that it produced unctuous perfectionists in the Galatian
Paul’s greatest fear was that in accepting this teaching the Galatians would miss the grace of God as embodied in the cross of Jesus Christ. In the process of addressing the Galatians’ errors, Paul manages to share some of the most beautiful insights about the grace of God in Jesus Christ:
- My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20 (NLT)
- Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the law of Moses? Of course not! You received the Spirit because you believed the message you heard about Christ. How foolish can you be? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort? Galatians 3:2-3 (NLT)
- Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, "The righteous will live by faith." Galatians 3:11 (NIV)
- You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:26-28 (NIV)
- And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.” Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are his child, God has made you his heir. Galatians 4:6-7 (NLT)
- It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1 (NIV)
- So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. Galatians 5:16 (NIV)
- But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy,
peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus
have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.
Galatians 5:22-24 (NIV)
The whole point of Galatians is that people are made right with God by Christ’s death on the cross and they do right by the power of the Holy Spirit. In trying to introduce circumcision and observance of the Mosaic law to the Galatians, the Pharisaical teachers were actually undermining the power of the cross. This is not just an academic exercise about beliefs in the ancient world. Even though there are not many Gentiles clamoring to return to strict observance of the Mosaic law today, there are a lot of “works-righteousness” people who think their standing with God and the world can somehow be enhanced by how hard they work at it. They try to live moral lives and go to church and give and believe this connects them with God. After a while, when they begin to stumble they get frustrated or try to compare themselves with others. For Paul, the grace of the cross brings a freedom from this yoke (5:1).
Understanding that salvation is a work from God also allows us to understand that transformation is a work of God. What motivates good behavior is not the human will trying to keep the law, but the Spirit of God filling us with spiritual fruit that transforms us from the inside out (5:22-25).
It also brings the sort of humility that can really help people return to God when they stray (6:1-5). If we realize that transformation is a gift from God for people who are subject to a sinful nature, then we can help each other rather than judge each other.
- Why do you think the “default setting” for human beings is striving for moral perfection?
- When you look at the fruits of the Spirit listed in 5:22-23, which to you think are being expressed in your life. Which might need a little tune up?
- How does the observation of 3:26-28 make you feel about connecting with Christians from other parts of the world?