As runners lined up for the London Marathon, it was obvious that there were many who were there to enjoy the day or to raise awareness for their cause, rather than to compete for first prize. Dressed as the Tower of London, Big Ben, a tea pot, Darth Vader or one of several Disney characters, many colorfully dressed contestants began the race, but only those who were serious about reaching their goal finished. The same is true of the Christian life. It is not how we start that matters. Rather, it is all about how we finish. Paul’s letter to the Galatians is written to a group of believers who began the Christian life with dedication to the truth of the Gospel, but who were in danger of dropping out before the finish line.
Last time I introduced you to a group of teachers that I call the “legalizers”, people who believed in the necessity of faith in Jesus, but who also equally believed in following the Law of Moses, particularly the practice of circumcision. However, Paul takes great effort to explain that the Gospel he preaches has a different message.
According to Paul’s Gospel (so named in 1:11), salvation is offered as a gift to be received by faith alone. It is based on the merits of Jesus and his death and resurrection (1:1-5), and those who believe are justified (3:16), and thereby delivered from God’s curse (3:13). The model of our faith is Abraham, who believed God and because of his faith he was counted as being righteous. All who in like fashion believe are considered his children (3:6-7). While it is true that Abraham was circumcised, this procedure was not administered until after he was justified and received the promise (3:17). The Law was never intended to bring us salvation, rather it was intended to convince us of our sinfulness and point us to Jesus (3:19). When we do put our faith in Jesus, we become united with him in his death (2:20) and receive the Holy Spirit who then enables us to live a life that pleases God (5:16-18). As we live our lives, we are not under the condemnation of the Law but enjoy freedom, as God’s sons and daughters, from the condemnation and guilt that the Law produces (4:1-7). However, this freedom in no way gives us the license to indulge our sinful nature (5;13). Rather, we have the privilege of being led by the Holy Spirit, away from deeds of the flesh and into the graces he provides (5:19-22).
So how do we know that Paul’s gospel is truly from God?
I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. 12 I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ…But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, (Gal 1:15-16 NIV) (Gal 1:11-12, 15-16 NIV)
Therefore, we can have great confidence that when we place our faith in Christ alone, we have the assurance that we are children of God and can anticipate an eternity in heaven as our spiritual inheritance (6:8).
This message is extremely relevant in our day, when so many religious groups are attempting to compel their followers to attempt to earn God’s favor by religious works, religious ceremony, liturgy, and acts of sacrifice. Please understand, these are all wonderful activities, but they do not merit God’s favor. Their value (which is considerable) is solely as an expression of our worship to God who has done for us what we could never do for ourselves. We might summarize the message of Galatians with a grid. The vertical line depicts his grace or low grace and the horizontal line depicts high law and low law.
If a person is in the quadrant of low grace and low law, we might say they have No Life. That is, they have no awareness of the Law of God, and thus no awareness of their sinfulness. Neither do they understand God’s grace, so there is no basis for them to have faith. If a person is in the quadrant of low law and high grace, we might say they have No Assurance. This suggestion is that they believe that God loves them unconditionally, but they have no regard to righteousness and their lives show little, if any, fruit that glorifies God. If a person is in the quadrant of high law and low grace, we might suggest that they have either False Assurance or a life of Guilt and Shame. Here is a person who either trusts in the Law for salvation or who has a faith in Christ but is continually burdened by his/her failure to keep the law. But the person in the quadrant of high grace and high Law understands the Gospel of Grace and has the Law of God written upon their heart and enjoys keeping in step with the Holy Spirit. This person might be described as being Spirit Empowered.
The Galatians began their Christian experience with the Spirit and they had the opportunity to continue in his power (3:1-5). Paul’s effort was to insure that they would not only begin their race but that they would finish it as well. How about you?