Monday, October 28, 2013

The Only Thing That Counts (Galatians 5:1-8)


“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. For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace…. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you.” (Galatians 5: 1-8)
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We live in a consumer culture. We basically say, “If you please me, I will reward you.” If my garbage doesn’t get picked up, I’m getting a new collector.  If another phone company is cheaper and better, I’m switching.  It's just business. It’s entirely conditional.  If I don't like the product, I move on. This is what we know – and in America we are very good at it.

This is not necessarily bad, but it becomes bad when we begin to treat people from a consumer perspective. We say to our friends, family or spouses:“If you please me, I will reward you. I’ll be good only if you provide something good.” It’s a consumer approach to relationships.  It’s entirely conditional. If people don’t give us what we want, we dump them and move on.  

The Gentiles were coming from a religious system in which their gods were consumer gods. They basically said,  “If you please me, I will reward you.” They had to impress their gods constantly so that the product – in this case, the worshipers – pleased them. If Zeus tired of them sufficiently, he would dump them and move on. Even worse, they weren’t entirely sure what pleased the gods, so there was the tremendous insecurity, which lead to desperate work to please as many gods in as many ways as possible so that they would be rewarded.

Paul had told them that God does not relate to us as a consumer God. We are not obligated to earn God’s blessing. Unfortunately, the teaching of the Judaizers was leading them back to their old way of thinking about God. Something about their understanding of God was flawed even though they were building from the Old Testament. To correct this misunderstanding with both parties, Paul needed them to understand what it means that God is a covenant God.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Living In Freedom (Galatians 4:8-5:1)


Like most Greeks and Roman citizens, the Galatians  grew up worshiping the gods of the local pantheon. Three aspects of their worship provided a foundation from which they built an understanding about how people were supposed to relate to the divine.
  • Votive offerings. The people gave gifts to the gods who then gave them gifts. The fundamental idea was that if you were nice to the god, the god was nice to you. God was a cosmic slot machine: you put your spiritual money in, pulled the lever, and hoped you won.
  • Competitions. These were the first Olympic Games. Nothing mattered but first place. To win, of course, you had to compete with everyone else. The gods would both notice and favor the winners, while the other competitors dropped off the radar until they did something to get noticed again.
  • Processions. These parades for the gods involved a lot of pomp and pageantry. People showed off how much they were willing to give, how far they were willing to walk, etc. Everyone around them could see how much the gods must love them.
In Galatians 4, Paul reminds the new Christian converts what they had put behind them - but not completely:
“Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable spiritual principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?” (Galatians 4:8-9)
While it is easy to equate idolatry with idols, idolatry is far more complicated than merely the statues to which people bowed. It’s the “weak and miserable spiritual principles” that live in the heart of idolatry. It's the worship of something other than God  - the giving of ourselves completely in the service or slavery of a particular thing that we think can fulfill our deepest longings or ease our greatest fears.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Slaves, Students and Sons (Galatians 3:15-4:7)

In the beginning of Galatians, Paul makes clear that we are saved and made righteous because of the work of God, not our own effort. Our merit is insufficient to ever make us good enough. How, then, do we best understand the existence of the Law?

Paul said he "died" to it – all those rules and regulations were not where the spiritual action is. Paul "came alive" in Christ when he was filled with the Spirit.  That sure sounds (on the surface) like the Law is no longer part of the discussion at all.

On the other hand, Jesus himself said that he came to fulfill the law, not destroy it. Jesus clearly was not anti-law. He was, however, opposed to the way in which His people had misunderstood and distorted its purpose and use.

So were Paul and Jesus contradicting each other?  Do we have to worry about trying to be good? Is the law of no use? In Galatians 3 and 4, Paul talks about three ways we can experience the law: as a slave to a Law that feels like a jailer; a student to a Law that feels like a tutor; a son to the Lawgiver himself, who feels like a true Father.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Substitue Saviors (Galatians 2-3)

Peter began a ministry to the Gentiles after God had sent a vision showing him why the Old Testament ceremonial law was finished. This vision revealed that animals formerly off limits for being unclean were now clean: “Kill and eat … Do not call anything impure that God has made clean” (Acts 11:7, 9). Peter realized that this was not just a message about animals: “God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him” (Acts 10:34-35).

He ate with the Gentiles despite criticism from the formerly Jewish Christians (Acts11:2); he defended the Gentiles as being “purified [made clean] by faith.” (Acts 15:7-9). God had called him to minister to a particular group of people that many had considered (in a sense) unclean. God ordained his ministry, but others did not necessarily approve.

In Galatians 2, we read Paul's opinion on a new development: because of pressure from his Jewish peers, Peter had changed his stance on how he should interact with Gentiles. Not only was he drawing back, he was claiming that they needed to undergo circumcision in order to be "clean" and acceptable to God. Paul realized that a lot was at stake:
When Cephas (Peter) came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because what he did was wrong. For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles. He was afraid of criticism from these people who insisted on the necessity of circumcision. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. 
In Judaism, circumcision symbolized the covenant between God and Abraham and God and the Jews. It also showed that a man had become a member of the Jewish community. Spiritual and communal identity were on the line.

But Peter had received a clear message – the people you thought were outsiders to God are tied to Him now the same way you are. One does not have to be a Jew to be one of God’s children. But in spite of a specific calling God placed on him, Peter was intimidated by those who thought that being a Christian meant meeting their non-essential standard of holiness.