Summary: God’s peace and power can only be experienced when we say no to ourselves and our ambitions and yes to God. God sacrificed Jesus for our sins, so it is only fair for us to make the sacrifices we have to make to love God and show that love to the world.
Have you ever been in a gathering where you felt that you did not belong? Have you even been in a club where you had to obey the rules? If so, then perhaps you can understand why Paul wrote the passage from Galatians that we heard earlier in this morning’s service.
Paul has just recalled what must have been the most awkward dinner party of all time. The Gentile believers tried to join the Jewish believers for dinner and things got very awkward, especially when Peter made a scene of refusing to eat with the Gentiles. Paul was shocked by Peter’s hypocritical behaviour. You see, Peter welcomed Gentiles when he was with Paul, but he refused to welcome them when more conservative Christians-namely, Jewish believers-came near. Paul gave Peter a stern lecture about this behaviour, and in doing so he defended his position on the issue of new believers having to follow Jewish customs.
The Jews believed that in order to be acceptable to God and have a right relationship with him, it was necessary for people to obey the law. There are people today who have the same belief. Obeying the law meant doing deeds that were listed in the Laws of Moses instead of doing things according to one’s own will. In the eyes of the Jews, obeying the law meant that they were justified in the eyes of God. Being justified means conforming to a standard of acceptable character or conduct. Unfortunately, being justified under the law meant being made right, not being made just, fair or equitable.
Paul distinguished between those who observed Old Testament laws (Jews by nature) and those who did not (sinners or the Gentiles). The law always reminded people of God’s standards and our inability to meet them. Paul argued that observing Old Testament laws could not justify a person; therefore, Gentile believers should not be required to keep these laws but should be taught to obey Jesus’ teachings instead.
Paul argued that the era of winning God’s favour by following the law has ended. The law was only necessary to help believers before the time of Christ. If Christ is in human beings, the law is unnecessary. Christ’s death and resurrection have ensured our salvation. To believe or act otherwise is a sin.
Paul’s experiences, and in particular his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, proves that God does what the law can’t do. God justifies and rectifies. It’s as if we ae in a court of law because we have been accused of committing a crime. God is the judge, Satan is the prosecutor (or Crown Attorney), and Jesus is our lawyer. Under the law, we would have to admit that we are guilty as charged and throw ourselves on the mercy of the judge. Under God’s grace, God as judge acquits us, accepts us as his children and makes us with Christ heirs of his kingdom. God’s righteousness is his justifying action in relation to the people. All of this can only happen when we have faith in God.
God’s standards are perfect, and because we aren’t perfect people we can’t meet those standards on our own. New Christians in Galatia were being persuaded that faith alone was not enough. They needed to add certain works of the law in order to be saved. That was a step backward in their spiritual growth. Paul argued that if we could earn our way back to God by our own efforts, Christ would not have had to die for our unrighteousness. Adding human works to faith would be the same as setting God’s grace aside. It would be hypocritical. We can’t do anything to earn our salvation. We can’t be justified or declared righteous on our own merits. We are justified by faith. The law can’t give us salvation. Only faith in Christ can give us salvation.
There are three ways in which we can deal with this hypocrisy when it occurs:
1. By being accountable to one another. God’s standard of living applies to all of us, and we need help trying to meet this standard. Rebukes must be made with love and concern for those who falter.
2. By impacting others. Our actions as Christians will be seen by others and will affect their attitudes toward Christ. Our lives must be lived in conformity with what we believe and teach. To put it another way, we must “practice what we preach.”
3. By being committed to the truth. If we claim to be followers of Jesus but we live in ways that are the opposite to that claim, we aren’t living in keeping with the truth of Jesus’ teachings. God wants us to live lives that demonstrate that we are committed to what is true and right.