ost 9/11 has demonstrated a need to monitor things we have taken for granted such as electrical grids and water systems. In a couple of major cities, the U.S. Army has come up with an unusual way to test thee water. They use bluegills. They are able to respond quickly to materials like cyanide, solvents and pesticides (Mott). If and when such things are found the trick becomes how to limit their spread and stop those who are responsible.
Someone had told Paul what was happening among those churches he and Barnabas had planted. They were aware of the problem and Paul was not about to shy away from exposing it so that these churches might be repaired and others warned.
The issue in Galatia was pretty specific. A group of Jewish Christians were not happy with the Jewish Law being put aside by the Jerusalem Council (cf. Acts 15). They thought all followers of Jesus should still obey dietary laws and other such things including circumcision. It seemed, in their thinking, one was a Jew first and a follower of Christ second. These are the people Paul has in his sights as he writes
But, there are other issues we face today, some similar and not so similar that, like that of Paul’s day, threaten God’s people and faithful living out our trust in Jesus. Among these threats are:
1. It doesn’t matter what you do as long as you trust Jesus
2. We can become spiritually special by gaining the right knowledge
3. Jesus is one of the ways God has given humans to gain heaven
4. God expects us to live like Jesus. If we’re kind, nice and love everyone God will accept us into His Kingdom
5. Christianity is one of the great religions and all of them are really the same deep down.
In fact, these are all lies. None of them is really new and all of them have been addressed by God’s Word and dealt with by God’s people at some time or another. Needless to say, we’re not going to even make a dent in all of this, but my goal is to help us see just how serious God takes such beliefs and what we can do to face them in our own lives.
The Serious Nature of the Problem
You can see how serious the issue in Galatia is by the various words Paul uses. Paul is astonished at the speed at which these churches have embraced a lie. In his paraphrase, J. B. Phillips has Paul’s reference to “my dear idiots” in Galatians 3:1. The term demonstrates “the irritation and irony as well as the surprise” (George p 90).
The Galatians are in the act of deserting, abandoning, and becoming a traitor to Christ. This word indicates the “transfer of one’s allegiance. It is used of soldiers in the army who revolt or desert, and of men who change sides in politics or philosophy” (Stott p 37). And although one may blame the heretics, the verb demonstrates the Galatians were willing participants (Utley) and (Lenski). In the words of Dr. Dan Fuller, the people who had accepted what Paul said now declared “I vote no confidence in your promises God” (Fuller).
A second grouping of words is aimed directly at those who have brought this non-gospel to the Galatians. Paul says they trouble the church (ESV) the gospel of Christ. To ‘trouble’ (ESV), ‘throw into confusion’, (NIV) or ‘disturbing’ (NASB) means to shake and “to excite to the point of perplexity and fear” (George p. 94).
The word that Paul links with this is stronger. They distort or pervert the Gospel. It means they take God’s gracious word and try ‘to reverse’ it. They deliberately twist it into something that it is not. John Stott says they are “turning it back to front and upside down.” And as he so rightly notes, “You cannot modify or supplement the gospel without radically changing its character” (Stott p 18).
What is being changed?
What is meant by ‘the gospel’? Have you ever been to Shari’s at Delta Park? A waitress might come up to you and ask if you’d like another cup of coffee. That’s a pretty normal thing to say. You may push yourself away from the table after a piece of pie and have the waitress ask if you’d like to try another piece of pie, a different type? Here is the difference in the Greek in verse 6-7 “…are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one.”
Although these words are often used interchangeably the context here clearly shows that something qualitatively different is being taught. What is being taught by these Jewish Christians is that the Law has to be kept if you want to be a ‘real’ believer. And, apparently those in the church were falling for it.
What it lost in this heresy is the gospel of grace and, therefore, the Gospel that comes from and is based in Jesus’ death and resurrection. To say NO to the Mosaic Law, which these Judaizers were preaching is pretty easy. I like shellfish and enjoy a fabric with cotton and polyester. The issue becomes which laws, rules, prohibitions still stand? To go further, what rules for living is expected among God’s people that may not have been thought of in the First Century but are appropriate for us today?
The liberation which the Gospel brings because if its grace does not lead to sinning so we can reap the forgiveness of God. That is an ancient heresy called Autonomism. It teaches the only thing that matters is believing in Jesus. What you do afterward doesn’t figure into your spiritual life. What God’s gracious gospel does do, is set us free from a life of self and reliance on our ability. Tim Keller notes, “Paul shows the young believers in Galatia that their spiritual problem is not only caused by failing to live in obedience to God but also by relying on obedience to him” quoted in (Novenson).
The legalism was wrong because it supplanted Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit (McKnight pp 52-53). It makes something other than Jesus the source of our salvation.
So what do we do?
First, we recognize signs that we are hearing or seeing another gospel when something is added onto the message of Jesus. It happens when we assume our rules, ways of doing things, form of government, even the emphasis in our theology is the only truth. Dr. Maxie Dunnam wrote, “I visit churches in whose worship I would never dare lift my hands in praise, and others where I would feel condemned if I prayed a written prayer. In one, the congregation is a slave to form; in the other, they are slaves to formlessness” (Dunnam and Ogilvie pp 21-22). And therein lies the danger.
Secondly we see that something is removed from Christ’s gospel and we are left in the grasp of something less. Today, this is the most prevalent form of such distortion. I had a very telling conversation with someone concerning their faith. I simply asked what they placed their faith in. They had been active in a church in the past. He said his faith was in Jesus, but he didn’t have to believe in a book written by a bunch of old guys. His god told him what to do. Can you imagine how I felt when I read?
“Paul would make no pretension at being religiously tolerant if being tolerant means that it doesn’t really matter what persons believe so long as they believe. How naive and glib we often are: “What persons believe is their business—a private matter. We don’t need to be too concerned about theology or doctrine. Being brotherly is what matters, living by the Golden Rule, doing good, refraining from harmful activity—that’s what counts. And if you are sincere, you’ll be led to the right truth and in the right path.” (Dunnam and Ogilvie p 22).
In the choir room at Savage Memorial Presbyterian is a sign that reads, “You become what you practice”. What we believe, rely on, and trust in will work its way out in our behavior. And our behavior is the barometer of our faith. Jesus told us, “If you love me you will keep my commandments”.
Third we need to determine if the gospel we are following has been constructed by people in order to please people or if they remain chaffing enough to still move us toward Jesus? What do we do when we are tempted with deserting? Paul tells us we are to remember who we are in Christ and in 2 Corinthians 4:7-10 we read:
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. ESV
Dunnam, Maxie D. and Lloyd J. Ogilvie. Galatians / Ephesians / Philippians / Colossians / Philemon. Vol. 31. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982. Print.
Fuller, Dan. 1978-1980. quotation.
George, Timothy. Galatians. Vol. 30. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994. Print.
Lenski, R. C. H. The Interpretation of St. Paul's Epistles to the Galatians, to the Ephesians adn to the Philippians. Columbus: Lutheran Book Concer, 1937. Print.
McKnight, Scot. Galatians. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995. Print.
Mott, Maryann. "Bluegill FIsh Monitor Water Supplies for Terrorist Attacks." 28 September 2006. National Geographic News.
Novenson, Joe. "Galatians: Fighting for the Gospel." 14 November 2013. Lookout Mountain Presbyterian Church.
Stott, John. Only One Way. Inter-Varsity Press, 1973. Print.
Utley, Robert James. Paul's First Letter: Galatians and 1 7 2 Thessalonians. Marshall : Bible Lessons International, 1997. Print.
Post a Comment