Summary: We return to Galatians, moving into chapter three and entitling this sermon, Religion or Faith? Paul continues his rant by challenging us through a diatribe.
We return to Galatians, moving into chapter three and entitling this sermon, Religion or Faith? Paul continues his rant by challenging us through a diatribe. A diatribe is a rhetorical method often used by orators of his day which uses ironic, satirical and sometimes even abuse language to make a point. All we have to do is look at the first sentence in today’s scripture to understand what I mean.
He states, “You foolish Galatians!” This is a huge insult to the people of that time. The English doesn’t do it justice. In the Greek, it is similar to saying, what is wrong with you? I know you’re smarter than this people of Galatia. He then moves directly into a series of questions he already knows they should know the answers to. Just look at verse 2, 3, and 5. (Read them!) From here, he continues the rant only to answer them all in verse 10 – “all who rely on the works are under a curse.” At this point, he is shocking them by saying the Law, the rules and regulations laid down by Moses are a curse. This would have been very upsetting because the Galatians would have been confused. They knew Paul was a Jew and Pharisee at one time but now there were other “Christian Jews” telling them what additional activities they needed to do to be “real” Christians. Why is Paul saying these practices were a curse? The whole tone of the letter is very agitated and uncomfortable.
It reminds me of a conversation I had not too long ago with someone who told me they were very spiritual but not religious. They said they just weren’t into being religious. I asked them what they meant. They proceeded to tell me that religious people and religions just want you to do it their way. That all religion is man-made and so it obviously isn’t from God. In fact, they went on to say even the Bible was written by man so how could it have any real truth in it. I then asked what he meant by being spiritual. He said that he was not hung up on all the rules. I asked which rules and he was very vague. He said he just prayed to a God in his own words and saw God or Spirit as all love. I nodded and asked what he meant by love. After a few more questions, I realized he, like so many others, like to bash organized religion because it comes with rules and spiritual seems to be more connected or freeing.
Webster’s defines 'religious' as a relating to or manifesting faithful devotion to an acknowledged ultimate reality or deity and religion is defined as personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices. It also defines spiritual as being concerned with religious values. It references spirituality as a sensitivity or attachment to religious values or the quality or state of being. In defining the words, I see only one major difference between spiritual and religious and that is commitment to a single God/Jesus or concept therein. I think those who claim to be spiritual today do so as a way of not committing or surrendering to a God. Like the Galatians, many people have been led astray by their leaders, churches and even denominations by thinking that certain religious practices make you or I more likeable or preferential to God. This is just another form of a legalist. Legalist stress earning one’s salvation while labelists stress trying to do the right action so you’ll be more in God’s favor. Labelists are the group that congratulates themselves on the “right” symbols, experiences and methods. Paul answers the so called religious legalist and labelist by answering their biggest push to do it the “right” way.
Paul uses a little of what I like to call “Land mine” selling when he address those legalist and labelist who have mislead the new Christians in Galatia. “Land Mine” selling is a process whereby you outwit your opponent by using their normal strengths against them by educating and convincing the audience that they have no need for the competitors strengths. The speaker provides the future response or objection upfront offering a different analysis so when the competition begins to stress this strength the customer discounts it. Paul redirects the Galatians by understanding the Judaizers were both legalists and labelists and that they had some knowledge of the Bible. He also knew they would attempt to use Genesis 12 to prove their argument or teachings about how to be a “real” Christian. As such, Paul refutes their position that to be a “real” Christian a person must follow Abraham, get circumcised and follow the Law. Paul accurately points out that the God’s promise of righteousness to Abraham happens before the ceremony was ever enacted. (If you don’t like the word righteousness substitute the words, “God’s acceptance of you into heaven.) In fact, Galatians verse 3:17 points out that the Jewish people were righteous some 430 years before the law was established so why would God require it now. He then goes on to second major opposition point which surrounded the purpose of the law? Why would God give the law if not for the salvation of the Jews? Was the Law some cruel joke on the Jews? Paul answers succinctly with a two part answer that stress the Law served two functions: one negative and one positive. First, the law was provided because it offered justice and punishment for those who violated God’s will. Second, the Law was given to show humanity how to live in this world by revealing the will and nature of God. After Paul planted these land mines and redirected the Galatians, he return to the gospel message to stress salvation comes solely through a belief in Jesus. Of course, this is the grace in the word today. Christ’s coming ended the rules and regulations helping humanity to understand it is not about being good enough or doing enough of the right activities that gets you into heaven. Its about believing.