Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
After an introduction and a defense of his position as a preacher and proclaimer of the gospel of Jesus Christ, Paul gets to his thesis in this mornings passage from Galatians. His concern for the people of Galatia is that they are looking to be justified in the law and not by grace, as the gospel of Jesus proclaims. It is this thesis that supports the basis of Martin Luther’s argument against the Roman Catholic Church and is discussed in length in Article 4 of the Apology to the Augsburg Confession.
So, what does it mean to be justified? Thank about what it means when you use the justification setting in a word-processing program on your computer. What does it do? It straightens up the words so that they are aligned on each side of the page. The majority of magazines and newsprint use justification so that you have a nice block of material to read. It looks neat and tidy!
The struggle that Paul and Peter both have as they are preaching throughout their territories is what does justification look like. Does it come to us in the form of the law that the Israelite people received from Moses in the Ten Commandments, food codes, and the hundred other instructions listed throughout the text? Or does it perhaps change when Jesus came to the world, walked with the outcast, healed the sick, ate with sinners, and died on the cross and was resurrected?
There appears to be a power struggle between Paul and Peter as to whose message carries the most weight. Paul could have easily given in, but I believe it is because of his passion that he defends the gospel of truth given to him through Jesus Christ. Exclusionary tactics are used to determine who is in and who is out of the kingdom. There are ecclesial face-offs within the church body and accusations of others caving in to public opinion and hypocrisy.
Does this sound familiar? This is human tendency and part of the public and the church life, whether we like it or not. To think that these struggles only happen today would be wrong. These struggles have been ongoing for thousands of years. It is in the letter to the Galatians that part of this conflict is brought to a head and addressed. They may be trying to justify their actions and Paul does not want any part of it. He is called to bring them back into the fold and make sure that they are hearing the gospel of truth that comes in the form of Jesus Christ. Nothing more, nothing less. It is not Jewish believers versus the Gentile sinners, for the works of the law mean nothing when it comes to being justified.
As people today we attempt to justify the things that we do so that it makes sense in our own minds and the minds of others. We separate ourselves in many ways. We put labels on people and decide to pick one side or the other, whether it be race, sex, class, sexual orientation. You do not have to go back too far in history to see how we attempt to justify those things that in our hearts we know are terribly wrong. We justified slavery by stating that it was okay because there was mention of slavery in the Bible, or it was okay because those that were enslaved ended up living a better life here than they would have in their own country where there was famine and death. This is just to name a couple. The sad thing is that we continue many practices of segregation still today and fail to recognize it.
The problem that occurred in Galatia was that people were finding it hard to believe in the idea of “Christ in us” as Paul describes this morning. For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me (2:19-20a). That same problem is still a stumbling block for us today. We want our facts neat and orderly like the law. We want to know what is the right and proper thing to do and make laws so that we can justify ourselves, making it in our minds seem right and appropriate.
Paul in his letter to the Galatians brings an attitude of knocking down any barriers or walls that we may self-construct. Those familiar with Robert Frost may have read and heard his poem “Mending Wall,” which is about repairing breaks in the New England stone walls. He makes us think about the barriers we erect as humans in self-defeating attempts at protection and purity. In one stanza it reads:
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know what I was walling in or walling out, and to whom I was like to give offence.
It is with this questioning that Paul writes to the people of Galatia. It is in grace that they have been given new life, not any works, and thus the saving grace of Jesus Christ is for all people. Let us live our lives fully following Paul’s words, the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing (2:20b-21).
This message of grace is the powerful gift that we have to proclaim to everyone. Where have you experienced grace in your life? Be bold and share that with those that need to experience the same grace through Jesus Christ.
So, what good is the law? We will find out next week!