Summary: We are called to pass on the baton of our faith as we received it. This sermon reminds us that salvation is by faith in Jesus and nothing else.
Sports days are upon us once again at our local schools and I had a sense of “been here before” when I was watching my son Matthew practising his sprinting and his baton changing in the relay races at the Junior School this week. Some of the baton changes were smooth and effective, others were slow and unimpressive. As usual there was the occasional dropped baton but it was good to see that training was taking place. The baton is handed on much more effectively when training takes place and when there is a desire and a commitment to get it right! So it must be with our presentation of the Good News of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ!
It’s not easy for us to imagine the circumstances into which Paul was writing his letter to the Galatian Church, but there are clear principles which emerge for us concerning the way in which we teach, present and live out our faith in Jesus.
Back to the baton analogy there is a baton being passed from last Sunday to this Sunday: Last Sunday we looked at the close of Peter’s Pentecost Sermon found in Acts Chapter 2. Peter preached the facts about the historical Jesus and that is the baton that has been passed on to us. It is the baton which we must pass on to this generation; and it is a baton which St. Paul was also running with as he wrote that “if righteousness could be gained through the law Christ died for nothing” (2:21)! In other words, if we can somehow save ourselves through our own efforts without relying upon the life, death, resurrection and example of Jesus then Christ died in vain.
Earlier in the chapter St. Paul refers to the occasion when he rebuked St. Peter (2:11). I am sure many of us prefer to avoid situations of conflict, but when truth is at stake it must not be avoided; and when right attitudes and actions are at stake then conflict within the Church must not be avoided.
Jesus did not avoid conflict. He ejected the money changers from the Temple (Luke 19: 45-46), he did things on the Sabbath which upset ‘faithful’ religious leaders, he confronted those who would only ever eat meals with people they liked (Luke 14: 12-14), he taught a certain rich man that he would need to surrender his riches and give to the poor and as a result the man became very sad (Luke 18:18-25) and he referred to the established religious leaders as “Blind leaders” and as a “brood of vipers”. Jesus did not avoid conflict, but we should also remember that when he confronted wrong attitudes and actions he did so without sinning himself, for Jesus was without sin (Hebrews 4:15).
Why did Paul have to confront Peter? Peter had come to realise that non-Jews could become faithful followers of Jesus without submitting to all of the external matters of the law. He believed it and demonstrated it by eating “with the gentiles” (2:12).
However, under pressure from some Jewish Christians he withdrew from eating food with non-Jewish believers. His actions ceased to agree with what he knew to be correct (Acts 10:28). Paul therefore challenged Peter and he writes to the Galatian Church because they are in danger of abandoning the truth of the grace of Jesus and replacing it with a non-gospel based on external religious rituals and observances. It was a key moment in the life of the early Church and Paul affirms what we refer to as the Doctrine of Justification by faith in Christ (2:16). We are not saved by observing laws, rituals and requirements because we cannot keep all of them all of the time no matter how hard we try. The law is good and perfect and it tells us that we have fallen short of the glory of God. Only a trusting faith in Jesus can save us.