Summary: Paul proclaims that we are all one in Christ.
Galatians 3:1-9, 23-29 “Unified"
The struggle between Paul and his gospel of grace and the Circumcision Party and their demand for works continue. Last week the Circumcision Party attacked Paul’s credentials as an apostle. They said that Paul really wasn’t an apostle because he wasn’t one of the twelve disciples of Jesus. Paul countered that his apostleship was a demonstration of God’s grace. Even when he was a religious extremist persecuting the church God reached out in grace and drew Paul into God’s family and appointed him as an apostle.
Even though Paul has successfully defended himself, many of the Galatians have sided with the Circumcision Party. Paul is amazed that the Galatians would give up the grace of God and replace it with works. He knows that it will not only lead to an empty religion, but also cause division in the fellowship.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised that the Galatians are so addicted to the idea of being righteous through works. Certainly, the society that they lived in and that we live in place an emphasis on work.
SURROUNDED BY WORKS RIGHTEOUSNESS
Roman society was a very class ordered society. Classes were segregated by power, wealth, occupation, and whether people were slave or free. At the top were the ruling class and land owners. They were followed by the merchants who were followed by the common people. At the bottom of the heap were the slaves. People were judged by their power, their wealth and their work.
The United States is very similar. We too have classes. It is false to say that we are classless. It is somewhat easier to cross classes—if we work hard enough. None of us consider ourselves in the class of the Kennedy’s or the Trumps. Nor do we classify ourselves with the homeless or that gang member. Much of what other people judge us by and how we judge ourselves is based on our work and the success that our work brings us.
Examples of this abound
• School is out. Students brought home report cards along with all of their books and papers. Good students had good grades. Bad students had poor grades.
• Most of those who are employed go through periodical performance reviews. The focus is on what you have accomplished and how hard you have worked.
• Were in a great debate in this country on whether it is a privilege or a right to not be hungry in this country. Are only those who demonstrate results and growth worthy of the privilege of being well fed? Or, in this land of abundance, does everyone have the right to be free from hunger.
No wonder we bring these ideas and expectations of work into our religious lives. We categorize ourselves by our church attendance, level of financial support, involvement in church activities and even the amount we help our neighbors and serve others during the week.
How different this is from what we hope our families are like. Young people can bring home less than perfect report cards and still be loved. Adults can experience a poor performance review and still be loved at home. No matter who we are or what we do love, acceptance and grace are the dominant forces in our families.
Knowing this Paul points out the emptiness of a society and fellowship that is based on works and not on grace.
GRACE IS GREATER THAN WORKS
The Circumcision Party argued that the Jews had always had the law as the basis of their faith. Paul disagreed.
In verse six, Paul points out that Abraham believed and he was considered righteous. Abraham’s righteousness was based on faith and not on works. The law came later.
In verse two, Paul points out to the Galatians that they received the Spirit—they might have had a “Pentecostal Experience” when they believed. It didn’t happen when they collected enough good works.
Paul declares in verse 23 that the law was like a babysitter that kept us in line until our parents came home. The lives of the Christians are now based on a relationship with God rather than an enforcement of a list of do’s and don’ts.
NO MORE DIVISIONS
Paul understood the Christian fellowship to be a classless society. As he writes in verse twenty-eight, there is no longer slave or free, male or female, for all are one in Jesus Christ.
Only by grace can followers of Jesus experience the kingdom of God where all people are children of God, loved by God, forgiven by God and recipients of God’s grace. God’s grace is what allows us to be one.
God’s grace is what enables us to be an accepting, welcoming congregation. We are not separated by our differences but united by God’s love.