Summary: The Bible makes clear that it is not what we do that gives us merit, it is what we are because of the blood of Jesus.
If you are like me, sometime in your life you have received a letter from some place you did not expect and you wondered, “What in the world is this?”
A couple of years ago, we received a letter from city Code Enforcement. All kinds of questions went through our heads. What had we done? Is our property run-down? Is our grass too long? We weren’t sure we wanted to open the letter.
When we did, we got the surprise of our lives. Our house had been chosen for a Lima Pride award and we were being asked to appear at a mayor’s press conference. What an unexpected outcome!
Now just so you know, we have also gotten the kind of letters that were not welcome!
In about 50 A.D., someone in the village of Galatia received a small packet addressed to the churches in that area. We don’t know who opened it or what their reaction was, but it was this letter called Galatians, now in our Bibles, from the person we call “the apostle Paul.”
They must have noticed almost immediately the change in handwriting at the end of the letter (6:11). Paul’s letters were usually dictated to someone who wrote down his words. But in this letter, Paul writes the last words with his own hand to emphasize the importance of his message.
There is something else about this letter. After the traditional greeting, Paul always wrote a word of thanks to the churches he was addressing. For example, in Philippians, after his greeting, Paul says, “I thank my God every time I remember you.”
But in this letter to the Galatians, he did not include his thanks. Instead he started by scolding them for falling away from the Gospel. “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel…” These were rather sharp words with which to begin a letter.
So, we ask, how did it happen that Paul felt compelled to write such a letter? What brought it about? And for that we need to turn to the document itself.
When we read verse 6, we see two words that give us a clue. First, we see the word “deserting.” The charge is that this church in Galatia is turning away from Jesus to a different gospel than the one Paul proclaimed. There were other preachers, teachers, missionaries – we don’t know who they were – who were confusing the people in this church by preaching a false version of the gospel, or maybe we should say a perversion of the gospel, that did not reflect the true Gospel.
That happens today as well. Maybe you have run into such false understandings of the gospel such as:
• the prosperity gospel that says believing in Jesus will make you rich (especially if you send money to certain TV preachers)
• a patriotic gospel that implies that God only blesses the United States
• a personal gospel that says all you need to do is believe in Jesus and what you do after that doesn’t matter.
• a works gospel that says if you are nice to people and do good deeds, God will save you.
It is this last one that comes closest to the concern Paul had for the church in Galatia, the idea that if you follow certain rules do the right things, God will save you.
Paul makes clear that these false versions of the gospel won’t get you anywhere. And that is when we come to the second important word in V. 6, the word GRACE. Paul writes about “the one who called you in the grace of Christ.” This word grace is the foundation for understanding the Gospel Paul was preaching.
The word GRACE pops up five times in the first two chapters. It was something Paul had experienced. He knew he didn’t deserve it. Only God’s grace makes it possible to live in favor with God. Have you experienced God’s grace in your life? If so, you know what Paul was talking about.
The heart of Paul‘s message can be found in 2:19-21. He wants his listeners and readers to understand that the gospel is an expression of God’s grace, God’s love, expressed in Jesus Christ, that believers are justified by faith alone, not by the merit of following Old Testament rules and regulations.
I know someone who doesn’t like to listen to long explanations of things and he often asks me to summarize by saying, “Can you just nutshell it for me?” I hope you recognize that sometimes short summaries just aren’t possible. It’s kind of like asking someone to give the history of the universe in 200 words or less. You can find such a history on the internet, but it is not very satisfying.