Oh, foolish Galatians!
Another translation reads, “You stupid Galatians!” A nice intro line… 🙂
What magician has cast an evil spell on you? For you used to see the meaning of Jesus Christ’s death as clearly as though I had shown you a signboard with a picture of Christ dying on the cross. Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by keeping the law? Of course not, for the Holy Spirit came upon you only after you believed the message you heard about Christ. Have you lost your senses? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?
Paul revisits his previous discussion regarding our inability to earn favor with God by keeping the law. Peter had realized that was not the way it works, and had so “discarded” the Jewish laws, but he was beginning to pick them right back up again. Apparently, that notion was quite prevalent in Galatia. Paul not only calls them stupid, he says again, “Have you lost your senses?!” Obviously, he is incredulous.
And why not? They know the answer to his question. Of course they did not receive the Holy Spirit by keeping the law. They know about grace. They have experienced it. They have lived it. But it just makes sense that God should want something of us in return, doesn’t it? Since he gave so much for us, shouldn’t we give in return? Is that too much to ask?
I love my son, Ian. He’s almost six and a half years old. He is quite intelligent, witty, and just fun to be around. But not always. This past week or so has been hard. He has made many, many poor choices. We have had to enforce some rather stiff consequences to help him snap out of his disobedient spirit. In that time, there were often times that I was angry. Admittedly, that’s probably not good. I am certainly a human Father, and not perfect in love like our Heavenly Father. But at the same time, did I cease to love Ian? No, I loved him all the more at times. I longed for a restoration of the relationship that his poor choices had damaged. And at times, I would try to do things that showed him how much I love him. The consequences are in place to help him understand there are repercussions to his actions. His choices, and they are definitely his choices, he can not be forced to do the right thing, will affect people around him. For good or for bad, there will be effects from his decisions. Consequences help teach him that.
How does that fit with grace, though? Aren’t we teaching him what the Galatians are thinking? Yes, God loves me, died on the cross, gave me his unconditional love… BUT… in real life you have to do what’s right and not do what’s wrong, right? That is certainly a struggle in trying to help such a young mind comprehend the vastness of God’s grace. I can’t comprehend it in my first 30 years… how could I expect to easily communicate it to my six year old???
But the key is the transition. Paul will touch on this in the upcoming chapters of Galatians. The law (rules, consequences, etc.) points out to us that we can never measure up by our own efforts. The law was in place for a long time. God was not different. He did not change his mind and send Jesus to change everything. Jesus said he “fulfills” the law. The law is not bad, it just has no power to make us complete. It was only meant to show us God’s holiness, and our inability to attain it.
So along comes Jesus, revealing the deeper truth of the Kingdom – it’s not us… it’s him. Perhaps some folks understood that already. Hebrews 11 goes through a litany of incredible names who were “counted as righteous” because they believed God. Not really for what they did, though the two are quite closely linked. Each time they are credited as being righteous because of their faith that GOD would do something amazing. Putting complete trust in him, not themselves.
The people Paul is addressing had known that same thing. He points them back to the cross. They knew what it meant. The finality, the completeness of it. But they were slipping back into the “do-it-yourself” mode from which Jesus had tried to dislodge them.
There is no harm in wanting to love God and do nice things for him. I love it when my children do. But I do not base my continuing relationship with them on what they do for me. Our relationship is not performance oriented. Nor is our relationship with our real Father.
Paul says quite clearly, “You began by God’s Spirit, now do you want to finish by your own power?” (TEV)
Amazing words from a couple millenia past. Still today I am trying to finish by my own power. I was reminded of it again yesterday by a verse I saw on my computer. Try as I might, I am not the producer of all good things in my life – Father is. Every good and perfect gift comes from him. Including our very relationship with him. He is the initiator, and that is so freeing! I didn’t do anything to earn this favor with God… he did! Why, if I knew that, and accepted that when I first discovered this truth… why would I want to revert to living life under my own power?
You foolish Greg!
You have suffered so much for the Good News. Surely it was not in vain, was it? Are you now going to just throw it all away?
As a little addition, a reminder to these people, Paul mentions their suffering. They had chosen to believe and live something that was not popular. In those days, the cost could be your life. But they knew the truth of what they had heard, and abandoned everything to live in that Good News. Now Paul says they are in danger of “throwing it all away.” I don’t believe Paul is hinting here that the Galatians are teetering on eternal damnation – losing their salvation. First, that’s not what he’s talking about in context here. He is trying to get them to live in the freedom they once knew. But also, if he really was saying that, “Straighten up, or you might lose it all!” wouldn’t that fly right in the face of everything he has said so far?
But we definitely fall into that trap still today. We read the “commands” of scripture and we throw them over our shoulder as a huge weight we must bear. A task that, with God’s help, we will complete. And not only do we shoulder this burden ourselves, we at least encourage others to voluntarily do so, and often employ a dose of guilt to ensure that they do. Perhaps that is the very thing Paul is addressing in this group of believers so long ago. So close to the physical reality of Jesus’ life and death amongst them, yet so easily slipping back into the earn-God’s-favor way of living.
It’s not by works, that no one may boast. It is the free gift of God.
You began by God’s Spirit; do you want to finish by your own power?
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