Paul is adamant that the Galatians get his point: what you do doesn’t save you, only Jesus. However, salvation is not an excuse to be useless; there is still good work that needs to be done. The work isn’t the issue, but our reason for doing the work matters.
If we participate in church traditions or work to make the world better with the idea that our good deeds will outweigh our sins, we are mistaken. If it were possible for us to redeem ourselves, the cross means nothing! The only thing that reconciles us to the Creator is becoming a new creation in Christ.
Good work cannot save us. Good work is the response to God for His grace and mercy We should never tire of doing good (v 9). We are supposed to live out our lifes pursuing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly, not for our benefit, but for God’s glory.
Paul felt so strongly about the difference between working for salvation and working from salvation that he took the pen from the scribe and wrote it himself. That would be the equivalent of moving from texting to a phone call. It’s a move that says, “Pay attention. This is important. “
Do good for God’s glory. Work from salvation, not for it. Do justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly. Keep in step.
There is a really cool percussive dance genre called Stepping. When I read Galatians 5 this morning, all I could imagine was a team of people using their whole bodies and their voices to create complex rhythms with a message. Stepping requires coordination, discipline, practice, unity, and commitment for the routine to have its full effect.
The same thing is true of the Church. Paul reiterates our freedom in Christ throughout this chapter, this time explaining that with great freedom comes great responsibility (apologies to Peter Parker). What we do (or do not do) cannot buy our freedom in Christ; only his gift of mercy and grace can do that. However, once we live in that freedom we live it out in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Our actions and attitudes reflect what (or whom) we worship.
All Christians are called to live out this lifestyle. The Church is made up of wonderfully made unique individuals who join together to serve one another and to reach the hurting people of the world. But when we isolate ourselves or get so caught up in the works we do, we fall out of step, and God’s message of hope gets muddled. We need to be committed and disciplined to learn the steps together so that the Church can manifest the complex rhythms that will draw people to Jesus. When the Church is in step with the Spirit, it is a powerful force that can withstand any evil that comes against it.
Why would anyone go back to something that doesn’t work? Galatians 4
Why Jesus? Why did he relinquish his divine authority and be born as a human to live in an oppressed population under the Roman government? Paul says it plainly, ” to redeem those who were under the Law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (v 5). Jesus’s purpose was to fulfill the Law that condemns us because we are unequivocally able to keep it. If we truly understand the implications of our salvation, we should respond with gratitude and joy. Somehow, though, we become convinced that we have to add to what Jesus did by keeping old traditions, maintaining some form of legalistic rule, or worshiping the “right” way – whatever that is. When we fall into that trap of trying to add to Jesus for salvation, justification, and sanctification, we enslave ourselves again to the things from which Jesus freed us. Legalism, as far as being required for salvation is idolatry.
Jesus redeemed us because we couldn’t meet the requirements of the Law; why would we go back to living like the Law still has power over us?
There is nothing wrong with traditions; they remind us of where we used to be. We should be doing good while pursuing justice and mercy; that comes out of the overflow of God’s goodness and mercy toward us. But these things are not ends into themselves, nor do they provide a boost to our salvation. When we look to tradition or deeds as justification as Christians, we willingly go back to being enslaved by the Law and we drag other people with us.
Our adoption as God’s children is complete. Rejoice in that gift of life, being certain that only Jesus is credited with our redemption from slavery under the Law.
For the next few days I will ponder the book of Galatians.
Paul opens this letter with his credentials. As a scholar, I understand the importance of leading with my resume. If people are going to pay attention to my scholarship, I have to demonstrate my expertise early. That demonstration is also tailored to the audience. For me, especially right now as I look for work closer to home, it’s a matter of tailoring my cover letters to the job postings at universities. (I love my work and colleagues at UNLV, but it’s a long commute from Atlanta.) For Paul, it was a matter of reminding the Galatians that his authority was not based on his scholarship or birthright, but through Jesus Christ Himself.
Once Paul identifies his credentials, he opens with the gospel: the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us (1:4). Paul grounds what is to come in the foundation of the gospel. Paul is not about to lay down his opinion, but the plain truth. The age is evil, Jesus delivers us from it, and God gets the glory. Grace and peace are only available through the truth.
Paul was astonished (v 8) at how quickly the Galatians adopted a distorted and cheapened gospel. He may have been astonished, but Jesus explained in Matthew 13 that there would be people who turned away from Him and those who would be confused by other teachings. It still happens. There are still people who want to use christianity (lower case intentional) for their own glory and prestige. The prosperity doctrine teachers are the most obvious in this age. They teach a false gospel the Jesus wants everyone to be healthy and wealthy (but never wise). That may sound good, but it’s not Biblical. Jesus was clear that believers would suffer and struggle and live in dark times. He said he would send the Holy Spirit as a guide and comforter, but never did he say that life would be comfortable (John 14:25-31).
While the prosperity doctrine is fairly easy to recognize, I think that there are two more dangerous false teachings that find their ways into mainline and evangelical churches. I call them the gospels of extremes. On one side are the legalists who focus almost exclusively on laws, commandments, and admonitions found throughout the Bible. On the other end are the liberalists who teach only mercy and grace without dealing with the consequences of sin. Both extremes misrepresent the true gospel: all have sinned (Romans 3), sin leads to death (Romans 2), redemption is through Christ alone (Romans 3, 1 Corinthians 15, Colossians 1), and eternal reconciliation with God is established in Jesus (Romans 6, 1 Corinthians 2, 2 Corinthians 5). Focusing on the laws of the Bible diminishes the work of mercy and love. Focusing on the grace of God diminishes His holiness, righteousness, and justice. The gospel is both mercy and justice, perfectly integrated in the person of Jesus. The gospel is neither a feel-good story nor a condemnation of people.
When we talk to others we must remain grounded in the gospel in all of its fullness and mystery. Before we speak of any spiritual thing, we ought to pray, May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14). Then, we can speak as servants of Christ and God will be glorified.