God is Setting All Things Right. So I am Blogging Through the Bible in a Year.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

November 24 - Galatians 1-3: Don't Force Outsiders to Conform to the Law

Today’s Reading: Galatians 1-3

The Message

English Standard Version

Thought to Guide Your Reading

The Messianic Jews (Jews who believe Jesus is the Messiah) wanted the Gentiles to obey a Law they themselves could not obey.

Summary in 100 Words or Less

Paul to the Galatian churches:
My authority is from Jesus. Why are you going away from His Message?
God called me, an uber-faithful Jew, to teach non-Jews about Jesus. Gentiles saw God because of me!
Some made attempts to circumcise the Gentiles. We resisted.
Jews had the best rulebook in the world and blew it. We trust in Jesus and aren't going back. Christ died to free us from rules.
Abraham's righteousness came by faith. You cannot impress God through rule-keeping. The Law was meant to guide us to Jesus. Now we have arrived. Don't make the Law separate us.

How Today’s Reading Contributes to the Gospel: God is Setting All Things Right

The problem in Galatia is the Law of Moses.

… Or Messianic Jews trying to impose the Law of Moses on Gentiles. Paul's message is quite blunt and to-the-point—it didn't make people set things right in the past, so don't force the Gentiles to do it. Paul has quite the résumé when discussing these matters which he will bring out when this issue surfaces in several books. Paul's authority comes directly from God when he tells them to stop focusing on the Law. If Abraham was considered righteous because of faith, so should they. The Law has no place there.
The impetus for having the Gentiles obey the Law comes from a good heart—it was the law given by God through Moses. Lasting over a thousand years, it gave the Jews an identity and one thing to feel proud of. It was the best law ever created. Who wouldn't want to obey the greatest set of moral laws in the world?
Except they forgot one important fact—Jesus came to remove the focus from the Law of Moses to the God who sacrificed Himself to set everyone's relationship right. To focus on the Law was to deny Jesus' purpose in coming to give Light to the world.
Christians must read this section of scripture with the understanding that we are the Jews of the first century. As I mentioned before, Israel's problems came from generations of people not taking God seriously—wanting the blessings of being God's Chosen People but not the responsibility of being lighthouses to the nations. Christians, especially those who grew up in multi-generational Christian homes, need to understand that the world does not see Christianity as a group of God's Chosen People setting things right. They see Christianity as judgmental groups of law-abiding citizens who can't keep their own members faithful to their god. If we want to help others set their relationships with God right we cannot add on the "oughts" that Christians expect—corporate Bible study, corporate worship, correct theology, etc. It doesn't work for Christians. It won't work for non-Christians, either. This isn't to say corporate Bible study, corporate worship, correct theology, etc. are bad or that we should stop doing them. Good people with good hearts believe being part of a church and doing all of these things helps set relationships right. Just like the Law of Moses, churches provide the best mechanism for setting things right. However, they are not essential to every person in the world having their relationship with God set right. To teach that they are is to negate Jesus' Purpose for coming.

Paul wants to keep the peace.

Yesterday we read how Paul had Timothy circumcised so they could enter synagogues without causing problems. Today Paul recounts how he did not openly flaunt his work with Gentiles when he returned to Jerusalem. As much as Paul wants to help Gentiles set their relationships right with God and keep their freedom from the Law of Moses, he also wants to live in peace and harmony with the Jews. He challenges the Pharisees and Peter in the open, since he wants them to live out the Truth they teach, but he doesn't parade freedom in Christ in front of the people who want to obey the Law of Moses. Before boasting of what God is doing, remember that God prefers right relationships over right mindsets. Don't try to get someone to agree with you and miss God. That defeats our purpose as His Chosen People.

We cannot impress God with our righteousness.

Undergirding the problem with imposing the Law of Moses on Gentiles is the belief that God wants to be impressed with how much good we do. Paul is clear: we can never impress God with our righteousness. The reason is two-fold: we can never be wholly righteous and God, through Jesus, has already done it. The first time is impressive. The second merely follows the trend. If we cannot impress God with our goodness, what does God want? God wants us to impress Him with our trust in His Way. We do that by accepting His Spirit, His Baptism, and His Life. When we allow Him to work in us we no longer focus on law, what to do or not do, and "us" vs. "them". We want to set things right with everyone because that's how God is! We want to be heirs of God's Way of Life because His Way blesses everyone in the world.

The Law was meant for us to realize we do not have a right relationship with God because we do not measure up to His Righteousness.

You might consider the Law the list of things God would not put up with. Although God prevented His Chosen People from terrible fates, the Law could not make a person holy. Why would God do such a thing? God wanted to make sure we understood that we do not measure up Him. We do not deserve a relationship because we do not set things right. Instead, God came and set our relationships right by being the sacrifice that covers what separates us. He came to humans when humans were the ones keeping us apart. There is no amount of religion that can teach people to live a life worthy of that honor. Only trust in Him will do it. How awesome is our God!

Do you teach setting relationships right or being religious?

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