Galatians is a book about 1) Paul's authority to preach, 2) the insidiousness of false gospel teachings and 3) grace. Paul says stay away from false gospels and false teachers, follow those whose teaching flows from Jesus and honors God and focus on grace as a foundation for life. One of my friends loved to say that justice is getting what we deserve, mercy is not getting what we deserve and grace is getting something wonderful we, in no way, deserve. I like that. So today let's talk about grace and the things that oppose grace.
Paul says legalism ignores grace. Legalism led Paul to react to Christianity by putting down this Christ-centered nonsense. Paul's mantra was "follow the law and align yourself with its principles." That teaching led Paul, according to Jesus, to persecute Him. "Paul, why do you push against Me?" Jesus asked. I want to ask today's reactionary legalists that same question. Do we really all want when we deserve? Gandhi said, "An eye for an eye ends up making the whole world blind!" Paul reminds us in Romans 12:17, "Never repay evil for evil." I could go on with many Biblical instructions regarding this, but I hope you get the point. Legalism leads to conflict, persecution and becoming enslaved to the very law you say you uphold. I find it interesting that in today's world legalism has a solid foothold in ideologies that claim tolerance and ideologies that desire for everyone to get what they deserve. Try saying something politically incorrect (either too conservative in a liberal region or too liberal in a conservative region) and see what happens. You will be crushed! Legalism isn't our way, Paul says.
There is another extreme. It is license. Everything goes. In 1 Cor. 10:23. Paul says, "Everything is permissible for me, but not everything is constructive." Wesley struggled with this theme of living life. He battled antinomianism. If you parse the word it means, "against the law." The antinomianists were caught up in the theology of election, and since the elect and the reprobate were "pre-determined" they believed that they had license to do whatever they wanted. The result was moral and societal chaos with a dash of anarchy. Since everyone basically did as they pleased, evil, self-centeredness and chaos thrived. Sound familiar? Read Judges 19-21. It begins, "In those days Israel had no king." It ends (21:25) with "In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes." Between those verses we see cultural decay. There is dismemberment of bodies, a myriad of sexual sins, civil war that claims almost 100,000 men and anarchy. It is God's way of warning us about the devastating effects of license. When there is no standard, there is social, political, theological anarchy. That is not the Church Paul is planting, nurturing and promoting.
Then, there is liberty. The liberty flows from the grace of Jesus (1:12-24) and is by the divine revelation of Jesus. That grace is affirmed by the leadership of the Church (2:1-10) and is part of who we are and what we do. That grace is founded on the love taught to us by Jesus Christ when He reminded us that His greatest commandment is to love God with heart, soul, mind and strength and our neighbor as our self. It is a grace that looks to the good of others ... not to our rights or our own desires. It is grace Jesus taught the disciples when He told them that His leaders would not lord over others but would serve others. It is the grace of our nature as Christ-followers who profess the message that we are no longer slaves (Gal. Chapter 5) to sin, the law or societal pressure. Unlike the people of Judges 19-21, there is a King in our land. His name is Jesus. His law is the law of love that leads us. His grace leads us to do things that lift up people, heal blindness and edify the Church that He has called His bride. We are neither slaves to the law or bound by the human desires of license. We have liberty, freedom and life from Jesus who is our King of Kings. We could do as we please ... but we choose Christ, who writes our story and is perfecting us with sanctifying grace. Thanks be to God! Randy