The Set-Up – Gal. 1.4
Paul sets up the conversation with this one thought, “He [Jesus] gave himself for our sins so he could deliver us from this present evil age according to the will of our God and Father” (Gal. 1.4). Paul clearly indicates that the message he preaches comes directly from God, and is not of human origin. He is referring to his encounter with Jesus on the Damascus Road. While Paul was yet a sinner, Jesus intervened along his journey. Paul was going the wrong way! And, it took a revelation from God to correct his GPS.
I have this old GPS, and I haven’t upgraded in about six years. The directions on that GPS are sketchy now because so much has changed in the last six years. It’s really become obsolete because the roadmaps have changed. It’s a good thing that the Bible doesn’t change. It is the same yesterday, today and forever.
The needs of people 100 years ago even 1000 years ago are very similar in that we all need clean food & water, adequate shelter & clothing, a safe environment to live, and an opportunity to be educated & employed. How we provide for these basic needs has adapted to the various cultures across the globe, but the needs remain the same across time and space.
Mission – One True Gospel (1-2), Gal. 1.6-7, 2.20
Paul lays out the Gospel message powerfully in his opening statements about Jesus. Christ fulfilled the promises of God. Paul expresses himself strongly, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ” (Gal. 1.6-7).
The term is used in military language indicating someone is deserting the faith. It also can imply a military upheaval among the ranks, or a switch in political allegiance. They were not walking a straight path in the truth of the Gospel message. The One True Gospel according to Paul is best understood in his own testimony that he describes to the Galatians, “You heard about my previous life in Judaism, how severely I harassed God’s church and tried to destroy it” (Gal. 1.13). Paul was creating an upheaval among the ranks of the Christian faith to be sure. Paul had been like the people whom he is addressing, and he finds himself critiquing himself and his own beliefs. This is not an abstract religious experience for Paul.
Paul insists, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2.20). When Paul became a Christian, everything that was self-centered inside of him had to die away.
Paul is not writing from a place of dispassionate head knowledge about Jesus. He is writing from his heart and his life experience. He has taken his personal witness or testimony of Jesus and using it to teach others about the Gospel. He points out to the Galatians his own testimony about his transformed life: this is how Paul was, this is how Paul is now.
Vision – Freedom (3-4), Gal. 3.13-14, 4.6-7
Paul says it this way, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse for us… that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (Gal. 3.13-14). Paul lays out a plan to teach us about the difference between Law and Grace. Preventing Grace wins us to Jesus. It goes before us to point our way to the cross and our need for mercy and grace. It can be found in our natural surroundings even before we realize that God is real. Grace is the blessing of unconditional love that we do not deserve. We have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
Mercy is when we are not punished for our sins, and grace is receiving blessings even when we are sinners. Mercy protects us from judgment, and grace offers kindness to us when we are undeserving. The aim of Paul’s letter for the church of the Galatians is to set them up for freedom. We are adopted, “Because you are sons and daughters, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba, Father!’ Therefore, you are no longer a slave but a son and a daughter, and if you are his child, then you are also an heir through God” (Gal. 4.6-7).
Values – Press into your Freedom (5-6), Gal. 5.1, 13, 16-17
Paul does not mince words here. He wants us to press into our freedom in Christ. This is what freedom looks like – shedding the old nature with his old habits and embracing the new creation in Christ. Letting go of what is past and grasping what lies ahead of us. And, when your freedom becomes threatened by sinful issues – fight for your freedom! Don’t surrender to the temptation.
Paul explains in detail that we who by faith in Christ Jesus have clothed ourselves with his righteousness, and our sins are washed away. We are no longer in bondage. Paul instructs, “Christ has set us free for freedom. Therefore, stand firm and don’t submit to the bondage of slavery again” (Gal. 5.1). Further, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; but rather, serve one another humbly in love” (Gal. 5.13).
The word here implies a military encampment from which campaigns are launched, and the duties of an enlisted slave are to be performed. The duties are quite clear, agape love of your neighbor as you would love yourself. Paul invites us to live into Kingdom values. Kingdom values inspire us to repent from our sinful nature, and live by the Spirit. Kingdom values invite us to produce the fruit of the Spirit in our lives.
We are called to walk in the Spirit. Paul indicates that when a person has trespassed, stepped over the line, stuck their nose in the wrong place, or meddle in somebody’s business. There are times when we have chosen not to be responsible for our own behavior. There are times when we take the offensive and behave badly. We call that sin, disobedience or a trespass.
Paul even instructs us in Galatians 5.16-17, “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.”
All of us from time to time can be overpowered with surprise, ignorance, or the stress of temptation. Temptation can come in many ways. The word to restore actually means to surgically reset a broken bone or joint. We are to “watch out for ourselves” meaning to be continually diligent and sharply attentive to yourself. Before we seek to correct others, Paul warns us to pay close attention to ourselves. We are to examine our own workmanship as if we were inspecting metals for their purity. We are to pay attention to the possibility that we might just be lead astray to think more highly of ourselves than we should. The word in the Greek language indicates that people can romanticize about themselves as being much better looking than they truly are. One might say they have fantasized about themselves.
As part of our contract with God as citizens in his Kingdom we are called to bear one another’s burdens. The Greek language indicates that the load-bearing is a requirement, not an option. The image here is a military term used for a soldier’s backpack (Rienecker & Rogers). Wesley instructs us to sympathize with one another for it is true that we too can easily fall into temptation.
There are times we are going the wrong way down a one-way street and we just keep going. When I was in college, I witnessed a car chase on campus where a car was speeding going the wrong way on a one-way street and the police car was following him. Be careful not to follow someone going the wrong way. You might have very good intentions of rescue them or stopping them from doing the wrong thing, but you are following them and could easily get in trouble too. It’s one thing to be the one making the mistake, it’s another thing to be the one who knows better and follows anyway.
Concluding Words – Live the Transformational Life, Gal. 6.14, 15
When our freedom is threatened with sinful thoughts and temptations come our way, we prepare our military campaign (Eph. 6.10-20). Be form our base camp and gather those around us who are people of prayer whom we can trust. We put on the full armor of God – the helmet of salvation, the breastplate of righteousness, and the belt of truth. We fit our feet with the readiness of the Gospel of Peace as we gather our sword, which is the Word of God, and the shield of faith to extinguish the arrows of the enemy. And, we gird our loins for the battle. We anticipate the Lord our God goes before us into to battle and his glory is our rearguard. Then we go to battle in the Spirit taking a stand against the enemy of our soul.
Paul’s concluding statement for the Galatians is to remind them three things: boast only in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ (forgiveness of sins), live a crucified life toward the world (die to selfishness), and become the new creation (transformation from the inside out).
Parting Words – An Open Altar
As we come to the Table each one of us is invited into this place of freedom – freedom from the sins that so easily entangle us. Freedom requires a sacrifice of surrendering our old nature for a new creation. As we come to the Table we come with both joy and sorrow… the sorrow of laying down our own choices that we have made and the joy of taking up the way of the cross. Let us celebrate together this Independence Day that we have the choice before us to live in freedom from the sins of our oppressive human nature.