Scripture: Galatians 3:1–9, 23–29
Law or Faith
Galatians 3:1–9, 23–29
You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly exhibited as crucified! 2 The only thing I want to learn from you is this: Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard? 3 Are you so foolish? Having started with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh? 4 Did you experience so much for nothing?—if it really was for nothing. 5 Well then, does God supply you with the Spirit and work miracles among you by your doing the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard? 6 Just as Abraham “believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” 7 so, you see, those who believe are the descendants of Abraham. 8 And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, declared the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the Gentiles shall be blessed in you.” 9 For this reason, those who believe are blessed with Abraham who believed.
23 Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. 24 Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 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. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.
Imagine a new Christian, someone who was just starting to get excited about following Jesus, who didn’t know a lot about God, but was on fire and excited about Jesus. But then, other people started talking to them saying, Jesus is great, but make sure you don’t do this list of sins and no-nos, or yes, Jesus is great, but make sure you are following these six steps to stay on the right path. Jesus is great, but make sure you’re following my church’s version of Jesus and not that church’s Jesus. And instead of continuing to be excited about Jesus and the love of God and consumed by the Holy Spirit, they start becoming consumed with following the right rules, their focus turns to making sure they don’t fall into a list of extra-bad sins, instead of remembering God’s extravagant love and grace, judging others becomes a way of life. This person was so excited about Jesus, but while they were trying to follow Jesus, other people got in the way and started leading them towards their version of Jesus and truth instead of the Jesus who is Truth. It’s pretty easy to imagine something like this happening.
Something similar was happening to the churches in Galatia. Paul came and preached the good news about Jesus and they were excited and ready to follow Jesus, but then Paul left to go someplace else, and other teachers came in saying, “Yes, Jesus is great, but what also is important, is following the law–men, you need to be circumcised and everyone should follow the Jewish dietary rules.” The people in Galatia were Gentiles, they had never followed the law before, but these teachers spoke with such authority and seemed to know what they were talking about, so the people in Galatia started focusing on following the law and lost their focus on Jesus.
When Paul found out about this, he was quick to put them back in their place. My version of his rant goes something like this—You fools! Who pulled the wool over your eyes? Did someone put you under a spell? I told you clearly and at length about the crucified and risen Christ, you experienced the power of the Holy Spirit in your lives, but you are acting like you have forgotten all of this. It was the Holy Spirit who began a new work in you, why are you turning to the law now, thinking that the law would continue the work of grace and love that the Holy Spirit established. It just doesn’t make sense! You should have stuck with the Spirit.
The Message version reads, “Something crazy has happened, for it’s obvious that you no longer have the crucified Jesus in clear focus in your lives.” And throughout this week, I have been wondering, what would it look like for us to refocus our lives on Jesus?
The past fourteen months have been filled with unexpected, hard challenges that most of us never imagined. Our focus had to shift to learning a new way of life and a whole new pandemic vocabulary—social distancing, quarantine, isolation pods, mask wearing. Now, as more people are being vaccinated and the research of how COVID spreads become clearer, our focus is able to shift again, away from pandemic life, and onto something new. Perhaps this could be an opportunity for us to refocus our life on Jesus, and today’s Galatians passage gives us some ideas on how to refocus our lives by remembering three key ideas.
First, Paul wants us to remember that the Holy Spirit is active in our lives. From what Paul says, it seems as though the Holy Spirit was active and flourishing in the churches of Galatia, miracles were happening and people were turning to Jesus. But when false teachers started coming in and emphasizing the importance of the law, focus shifted to following the law in order to gain favor with God, instead of remembering it was God’s grace that brought them to God in the first place.
Today, we might not have the law to contend with, but there are plenty of other things to take our focus off of the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. While sometimes well meaning, we are good at making extra qualifications to be a good Christian. Just check social media, and you will get a wide array of opinions on what it looks like to be a real Christian. You can’t be a Christian unless you are a part of this political party and passionate about this issue. In order to be a good Christian, you should follow this Bible reading plan, only read this version of the Bible, and listen to this podcast every week. All Christians should read their Bible every morning before putting your feet on the ground—that is how you need to start your day. The lists can go on…
But when we make lists of rules and qualifications about how to be a Christian, we are leaving the work of the Holy Spirit out of our lives.
Because what might be a life-giving Bible reading plan for you, could be overwhelming and guilt-ridden for someone else. What could be an informative, insightful writer for one person, could be harmful and triggering for another.
God made each of us uniquely and so each of us relates and connects with God differently, and that is okay. In fact, that is good because it gives us a bigger, fuller picture of God as we learn from one another, trusting that the Holy Spirit is at work in each of us.
So instead of trying to find the right list of rules and practices to be a good Christian, we need to intentionally invite the Holy Spirit into our lives. And this will look differently for each of us, but perhaps it could begin with a prayer, inviting the Holy Spirit into our lives once again. One prayer for this that I have come across comes from a book called Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, and it goes like this, “Stir us to rise each morning expecting to encounter you and be caught up in your work.” “Stir us to rise each morning expecting to encounter you and be caught up in your work.”
The second thing Paul invites us to remember is that we are children of God. He reminds us of Abraham, who believed in God, listened to God’s call on his life, and was blessed. Paul tells the Galatians that it was not the law that started the people of God, the Israelites, it was the faith of Abraham. The law came later. First, Abraham believed and put his faith in God and God said from Abraham, all nations were to be blessed, Jew and Gentile alike. Paul reminds us that we are all children of God if we just believe.
Believing in God does not mean we are going to live perfect lives. Abraham definitely didn’t—at times he doubted and questioned God and tried to make his own plans when he didn’t think God was acting fast enough—but God continued to work through Abraham. Believing in God puts us on the road to experience God’s love and grace.
Being a child of God is one of the most precious titles we are given, and I think we often underestimate its importance. I know it’s meaning hasn’t fully seeped into my being yet. How would my life change if claiming that I am a child of God took precedence in my life? If I remembered that my value stemmed from being God’s beloved child and not my job, bank account, grades, or friends? How would my anxieties and fears lessen if I was able to fully embrace and realize that I am a part of God’s family and that only happens because of God’s grace and love in Christ Jesus? It would be life changing, and Paul wants us to remember and latch on to that identity.
And lastly, Paul tells us we need to remember our baptism, that we have been made new and are clothed with Christ.
Going to a Presbyterian school and interning at an Episcopalian church, I was surprised by how often they talked about and remembered their baptism. We might have “Baptist” in our name, but I think we could learn something from other denominations in remembering the meaning of our baptism as a visible sign of God’s grace and becoming a part of God’s family. When you walk into my seminary’s chapel, there is a large clear glass bowl filled with water, encouraging us to remember our baptism as we enter. Frequently, worship leaders would go to it, scoop up the water, and pour it back in so we could hear the sounds of our baptism.
One of the gifts of believer’s baptism is that we can actually remember our baptism. Dying to ourselves as we enter the water and emerging as a new creation, one with Christ. And perhaps even feeling new, changed, and cloaked in the Spirit as we walked out of the water. When I taught this spring’s baptism class, we talked about how baptism was a visible symbol of a person’s decision to believe in and follow Jesus, but that it was also a symbol from God that God would always love us, that God would always be with us, and that God calls us God’s beloved child.
Through our baptism, Paul suggests that we are given new clothes to wear–the clothes of Christ. Robert Grosseteste says that “a bodily garment is fitted for the one who wears it, whereas a spiritual garment shapes its wearer.” In baptism, we are united with Christ, clothed with Christ, so we can become more and more like him.
And Paul says this should bring unity among the people of God. Paul quotes what many scholars believe to be part of a baptismal liturgy used at that time-—“that 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 this liturgy was a play off of a common prayer that Jewish men would say in the mornings, where they would thank God that they were not a Gentile, a slave, or a woman.
The early church is proposing something radical—those hierarchies are no longer at play; a man is not better than a woman, a master is not better than a slave, Jews are not the only ones with access to God; for we are all one in Christ Jesus. It is tempting to say that in Jesus Christ differences are erased, but I don’t think that is the case because God created this big, beautiful world full of diversity so we can see and experience our big, beautiful God as we were all uniquely created in God’s image. No, in Christ and through our baptism, we now have something bigger than our differences to unite us—the transformative love and grace of God.
What a picture Paul has given us in Galatians 3 of what a life re-focused on Jesus looks like!
It is a life in the Spirit, where we remember that God is actively working in our lives, that life with God is not as much about what we do as it is about what the Holy Spirit does in and through us.
It is a life where we know and claim that we are children of God, that our value lies in God calling us a beloved child and not what the world says.
And it is a life with Christ, through our baptism, which unites us together and transforms us to become more and more like him. May it be so! Let’s pray…
God of Abraham and Sarah, God of Hagar, God of Paul and Mary… thank you for inviting us into a new life with Christ Jesus. Thank you for your reminders today that the Holy Spirit is actively at work among us, and we invite you, Holy Spirit, intentionally into our lives once more, that we may expect to encounter you and be caught up in your work daily. Thank you that you call us your children, that no matter what our earthly families look like, we can rest knowing that we are a part of the family of God, so we are never alone. And thank you for our baptism, that we are clothed and united with Christ, transformed into a new creation where hierarchies fall and all are one through Christ Jesus. May we become a little more like you, Lord Jesus, everyday and be transformed into the people you created us to be. Amen.
Benediction: May you go today remembering that you are a child of God, united with Christ, expecting the Holy Spirit to work in and through you this week. Amen.