All Roads Lead To Jesus - Galatians

Galatians - Jesus is the Source of Every Aspect of Life
Reading: Galatians 2, Galatians 5

There are many things to admire and cherish about the modern church. We are on the scene when there are natural disasters and people need help. We have been at the frontline of many good causes throughout our storied history whether it be the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s (admittedly, many churches were not helpful and even opposed Civil Rights). We help transform communities. We have started schools, orphanages, and organizations to meet the needs of those without the means to help themselves. Many preachers have remained faithful to not only preaching sound theology but applying that theology to mission and life.

There are also many things to despise about the modern church. I might argue that the things we should despise always begin with an addition or subtraction from the Gospel. They seem like small transactions but end up as deadly and festering wounds. Recently, while petting my dog Frodo, I noticed a small lump in his throat. It didn’t’ seem to bother him so I left it alone. Within days, the lump grew from a small marble size to a baseball-sized mass. I took him to the vet to find out what options were available to us. They determined that this potentially deadly infection was started by a small, and barely visible, puncture wound. They weren’t sure how he was injured in the first place. He may not have even felt the original wound. But he was surely feeling the effects of the quickly spreading disease in his neck. We had to have surgery, a drain placed in his throat, and antibiotics coursing through his blood in order to save his life.

Bad theology infects the church. When bad theology infects the church it usually happens in small doses. Bad theology most certainly leads to sinful living in every aspect of the Christian life. The teachings of the church affect the lives of the congregation in very profound ways.

Today, there are many instances of additions and subtractions to the Gospel that have infected the church. I believe this is why the church in the West is struggling with its identity. We started off well but soon departed from the Gospel. We added traditions, politics, causes, and other well-meaning variables to an otherwise straight-forward Gospel of grace, and what we ended up with is no gospel at all.

The church in Galatia had started off so well. Paul had preached the Gospel in the churches and they had received the Gospel, believed the Gospel, and lived by the Gospel. But something happened. As time went on a group in the church began to add some teachings to what Paul had preached. This new group taught that those who truly followed Jesus would also follow the old practice of circumcision. In order to truly be saved, they taught one must put their faith in Jesus as Messiah and follow the ceremonial laws of Israel concerning circumcision.

For Paul, this new Gospel was no Gospel at all. In effect, these teachers had added a means of salvation to the work of Jesus. The teaching spread quickly throughout the churches which prompted Paul to write his letter. Those who are saved are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, by Christ alone.

It is interesting to note the anger with which Paul writes throughout his letter to the Galatians. These new teachers had struck violence at the very heart of the Gospel. Their Gospel introduced the idea of salvation through personal works and achievements rather than grace. Regardless of their intentions, their new Gospel added something to Jesus and by doing so they cheapened grace, cheapened the cross, and led the church astray.

He wrote in no uncertain terms when he said, “yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified…For through the law I died to the law so that I might live to God.  I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And 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 righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.”

For Paul, this issue wasn’t as if the Galatians were a little of course, but rather that they had made a U-turn.  He tells them that they had been running the race well as they had started with the Spirit. But now they were following the law and traditions as a means of salvation. Paul did not only set out to correct a few lofty theological nuances. The Galatians were in danger of a religion that was no Gospel at all. He had to set their theology straight in order to help them see that the grace by which they were saved affected every aspect of their life. Their theology informed how they lived and interacted with the world around them.

If they continued in a theology of works, they would never experience grace working in their lives.  The very central principle of grace that sets the Christian faith apart from all other world religions would be lost on them. Paul showed the Galatians that by our being crucified in Jesus, and our dying to sin in Jesus, that we now have a new life in Christ that is characterized by the fruit of the Spirit. Those who live by the fruit of the Spirit do so because they are living in freedom from religious requirements and instead of living lives of gratitude. In this way, Jesus is the source of every aspect of life. It was absolutely vital for the Galatians to understand that they must not add anything to Jesus’ work and they must not take anything away from his accomplishments on our behalf. Instead, we must completely depend on Jesus for every aspect of our life. We must never think that we can add something or contribute anything to our salvation.

Paul tells the Galatians why he is so fierce in opposing any addition or subtraction to the Gospel he had been given by Jesus himself, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you.” Paul takes corrective action because Paul’s desire for the Galatians is that they would live in freedom and by the Spirit.

Freedom from what? Freedom from the shame and guilt of trying to prove ourselves to God when Jesus had already proven himself to God on our behalf. When we add requirements to the Gospel, we end up living lives that can never measure up to God’s requirements. We will always fall short.

When we fall short, we live in misery and the guilt and shame of our sin. Free people don’t live in shame and guilt. Those who have been justified by faith in Christ live free lives. Every aspect of their life changes.

Paul gives these examples of this freedom in Christ when he says, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself… But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things, there is no law.  And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.”

Those who have trusted in Jesus alone for salvation do not need to add any additional work to the work of Christ. Instead, they live freely by the Spirit. They have been freed to live lives that are full of joy, peace, patience, kindness, and the like. Paul continues in his letter by giving specific examples of how faith in Christ alone changes every aspect of our lives.

If we want to live according to the freedom that we have, if we want to live life by the Spirit, we must keep in step with the Spirit and believe the Gospel that has been handed down to us by the Scriptures. The Apostles spent their lives, and many gave their lives so that we could experience this true life in the Spirit. For them, Jesus was enough.

We must look for the small puncture wounds in our theology. We must be wary of the ways in which our modern churches have added traditions, politics, ideologies, and causes to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. These added teachings might not seem like such a big deal to us. These teachings might even be good things or things that we can agree on, but they are not the Gospel. We must allow the work of Christ found in the Gospel to inform every area of our lives and everything that we believe rather than the other way around. This is the way to live in freedom and by the Spirit because of the gracious work of God through Jesus Christ.

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