Summary: Many claim to have the truth, but Paul proclaims that there is only one “gospel—good news” and that is God’s love and grace in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
Galatians 1:1-12 “Only Grace”
One of the greatest movies of all time—at least for the critics—is “The Wizard of Oz.” We all know the story of Dorothy and Todo, her dog, who want to get home to Kansas. They are joined by a scarecrow who wants a brain, a tin man who wants a heart, and a lion who wants courage. During the movie, the scarecrow, tin man, and lion all demonstrate that they have what they are searching for—a brain, a heart, and courage—they just don’t know it. The trio does not acknowledge that they have these items until at the end of the movie, when the lion receives a medal, the scarecrow a diploma, and the tin man a replica of a heart.
The Galatians in our lesson today are a lot like the scarecrow, tin man, and lion.
Paul was Christianity’s greatest missionary. He established congregations all along the East Mediterranean, Turkey, and Greece. He preached a gospel of God’s love and grace, and a restore relationship through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In his message, Paul stressed that there was nothing a person could do to earn God’s love. Grace was not experienced because of achievement, and humankind was incapable of establishing a relationship with God—it was God’s gift to us.
In Paul’s preaching, there was no altar call. There was no demand that a person pray a “sinner’s prayer,” confessing their sins and accepting Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Being filled with the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues was not an expectation. And, it didn’t take two verifiable miracles to make you a saint.
Life in God’s kingdom was a gift—totally. A person received this gift by faith. Faith was believing that Jesus had risen from the dead and trusting that God is moving in believer’s lives and the world. Faith was being loyal to Jesus and making him the number one priority in life. It is also seeing life from God’s perspective. The early Christian called it “walking the Way.”
It wasn’t enough for the Galatians.
Grace is so counterintuitive that the Galatians began to struggle. They began to doubt that living in a relationship with God was a free gift. They wanted something more.
As the doubts of the Galatians increased, members of the circumcision party—Jewish Christians and former Pharisees came to town. They had an answer to the Galatian’s struggles. The Jewish Christians earn God’s favor and prove that they were Christians by being circumcised, eating Kosher, and observing the Sabbath. Accomplishing these tasks would give them the satisfaction and the security that they had done something worthy of the relationship they wanted. It was the exact opposite of what Paul preached.
Unfortunately, this has become the popular way for Christians to think. In medieval times, people were taught that they had to do whatever the Church told them to do in order to be saved. Today people talk about the necessity of accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior, or being filled with the Holy Spirit. Some Christians prove their faith by adhering to a ridge set of rules. Other Christians declare that a person needs to be of a particular political party, or hold certain social and political views. All of these views are against the gospel of love and grace that Paul preached.
The difference between grace and work; between Paul’s gospel and the circumcision party is perspective. If we look at ourselves and concentrate on what we have done and what we believe, then we are focusing on work and earning God’s acceptance. If we look to God and are overwhelmed by God’s love, grace, and presence in our lives, they we are experiencing what Paul wants the Galatians and other Christians to experience.
CHAOS OR MISSION
It’s scary to not need to depend on our actions, or have to earn our worth. We are required to do this in almost every other aspect of our lives. People fear how the truth of God’s unearned and overwhelming grace might play out in our lives. What will we do if we don’t have to do anything? What will happen to the law if we don’t need to keep?
Questions about the integrity of Paul’s gospel have changed in character, but they have not gone away. Isn’t Paul giving us a Christianity-made-easy? Doesn’t his theology lead to passivity rather than concern for action? Paul’s own autobiography issues a resounding “No” to these questions. Paul himself was anything but passive. The gospel he preached was not “an opiate for the people,” but an “adrenaline for mission.” The gospel moved him beyond the bounds of his Jewish heritage into the world around him. Does the gospel do any less for those who are touched by it today?