Sunday, January 15, 2012
Scripture Sunday: The Book of Galatians
This letter from the apostle Paul to the church at Galatia is an attempt to set them straight on a few important facts about faith vs. obedience to rigid religious laws. Paul has just barely dispensed with his greeting paragraph when he says to the Galatians, "I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel". These people were happy to accept salvation through repentance and belief in Jesus Christ, but now they're following another philosophy entirely by trusting in their own good works to save them. Specifically, they're clinging to the old ways of Judaism and following all the intricacies of Moses' laws (ones that extend far, far, far beyond the basic guidelines of the Ten Commandments).
Paul isn't known for mincing words, and he certainly doesn't hold back when he's telling the Galatians that no one should add on to Jesus' gospel of salvation--"But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed" (1:8). Paul is even making provision for his own human failings, here; Paul might one day fall away from the faith, but Jesus' words will still be true and should still be followed no matter what a human leader or a potential divine messenger might say.
One of the big issues in the church at this time in history seems to be the division between Jewish Christians and Gentile (non-Jewish) Christians. The Jews are trying to make the Gentiles follow all the laws of Moses, when these laws having nothing to do with the new abundant life that Christians are supposed to have. Paul points out that continuing to hold to the religious laws is not the way to be justified (put into a right relationship) with God. "Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ" (2:16). Even if a person were to perfectly adhere to the hundreds of detailed instructions in the Mosaic law, they would still be justified only through faith.
I think this Faith vs. Works debate is still a big deal in modern Christianity. Non-believers often see Christians as "People Who Don't Do Certain Stuff", and before you know it, we can start to see ourselves that way. We have a long list of bad things that we don't do, and that--combined with the long list of right things we try to accomplish--makes us feel very special. But we are not put into a right relationship with God by sticking close to an admirable list of stuff to do and not do. Justification comes through turning from your sins and trusting in Jesus' sacrifice. All the special religious rules matter very little if you don't have this part settled.