St Paul is writing to the Church in Galatia. Before we even begin to look at the text, it’s important to understand the necessity of it, of what issues St Paul was addressing in this epistle. The churches in the are of Galatia, though they had received the Gospel of Jesus Christ as a gift of God, had begun to taper away from this faith that they had received. They had begun to accept the teachings of the Jewish legalizers who were teaching that only through the Law of the Old Covenant could they ever hope to achieve salvation. Thus, this epistle is an attempt to call them back to the grace of God. In fact, so strongly had they deviated from the teachings of the apostles that it is he begins the letter addressing it “To the churches of Galatia,” a stark contrast to every other epistle, wherein he began either with “the Church of God in…” or referred to them as “the beloved” or “the sanctified.” It is also the only epistle where he does not list names displaying respect or affection. This reveals immediately that he considered the churches in Galatia to be simply a community, a society, rather than a true Church of God. It displays this deep concern and sorrow at their turning away from the Gospel that he doesn’t even acknowledge their affiliation with God.
“Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ…who gave Himself for our sins.” This serves a twofold purpose, at once dispelling the heretical teaching that God and Jesus were not the same, and also displaying the truth that Jesus alone, through His grace, was able to give Himself for our sins. In this greeting, he manages to summarize the whole of the Gospel of Jesus. We see here that the Gospel comes from God Himself, and that He came down in the form of Christ for our sins, not only in His death and resurrection, but in every step of His incarnation, beginning with His conception and through His resurrection and ascension. And this delivery is from this present evil age to enter the age to come (Verse 4). And, this deliverance is all according to the Will of God the Father, who becomes the Son in His human nature, in fulfilling the Will of the Father. Therefore, as His followers who are called to be like Him, this fulfillment of the Will of God the Father is thus cast upon us to fill as well. “It is not I who live, but Christ who lives through me,” to quote the apostle. The Father’s will is done by Jesus, who calls us to become as He was, thus as it was done by Jesus, so too it is to be done by us, “On Earth, as it is in Heaven.”
See, there is a lot more to being a Christian that simply establishing this moral law that the Jewish legalizers were attempting to implement, or even the Law itself. The Law was given to us as a guide, knowing that we could never attain to it, but rather using it as inspiration. The Law itself could never save anyone, what it can be used to teach us what our true faith should look like. It is our faith in, and reliance on, the Holy Trinity that saves us, and the Law is intended to show us what that faith must look like. As a father, I can give my son certain rules to follow, which my son then has the right to either follow or not follow. Now, I can certainly offer punishment to him for not following those rules, but in so doing he would begin to miss the point. It is through his love and respect for me that he chooses to follow them because he trusts me, he trusts that those rules were given to him to protect him and keep him safe, preparing him for adulthood. And, when he inevitably deviates from those rules, he admits to it and asks for forgiveness. So too becomes our relationship with God. Following the rules simply because they are the rules will never save us, but if we trust Him and love Him, then we begin to see not only the Law itself, but also why the Law was given unto us. We were given the Law to help guide us to a true life in Christ, a true faith, and it is only at that point can we truly become as Christ was.
St Paul goes on to “marvel that you have turned away so soon from Him who called you to the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who want to pervert the Gospel of Christ.” In Galatia, this gospel was one that eradicated the gospel of grace. It was a gospel that claimed that only through strict conscious adherence to the Law could salvation be attained. That had inherited this teaching from the Judaizers that salvation was solely through the works of the Law. It became this sort of legalistic spiritual checklist which never took in to account the incarnation of Christ for the forgiveness of our sins. The Jews denied the Holy Trinity believing only in God the Father and thus strict adherence to the Torah as the only means by which salvation was possible. It was that spiritual checklist that you checked daily to see if you were worthy of the Kingdom. Unfortunately, in our generation, the paradigm has shifted completely from one extreme to the other. Our generation has sought to null and void the Law and the commands of God, choosing to appease the flesh and live our best life now regardless of the commands of God. It is not uncommon to find someone who claims Christianity and yet remains indistinguishable from the worldly man at the same party all while glorifying sinful behaviors in the name of freedom. There are two opposing mindsets which have all but destroyed the very foundation of the Church, one that merely following the Law is necessary unto salvation, and the other is the once saved always saved mentality that the sheer acknowledgment of God’s existence is all that is required, with no change to our lives whatsoever.
And yet, Paul warns about either of these teachings. “If we or even an angel from Heaven preach another Gospel, let him be accursed.” This is so important for us, anyone who teaches any Gospel other than the truth, let him be accursed. Any teaching that seems to contradict the words of the Scripture, and teaching that doesn’t require sacrifice on our part, any teaching that claims that either the Law is able to save or that the Law no longer applies, let those teachers be accursed. This is so important to our generation because there are literally thousands of denominations who teach this “best life now” approach that even the apostles themselves would look at and spawn another epistle of warning. We must be equally careful, however, not to bend back to the other extreme, a legalistic approach wherein we seek to earn our salvation through the works of the Law. The grace of God isn’t earned, it is a gift, and we must never discard this grace of God, likewise however, we must not pervert it to allow sin to become commonplace in our lives. “I’m not perfect, just forgiven” is such a true statement, however, it has been warped by our generation to mean that the struggle against sin isn’t necessary. No, we’re not perfect, we will sin, but we must struggle against it in our minds and in prayer, and trust that the Grace of God will help us overcome that sin. When we surrender the struggle, we are telling God that we are stronger than He is, that we can never overcome our sins, even with His help. And that is our decision for which we must be held accountable.
So, as Paul concludes this passage, so too just we contemplate in our own lives. The true Gospel message is not an easy message, it’s inclusive of many things that our fallen human nature will resist. Further, our pride will step in as well. People will slander us, they’ll turn us away, because the true Gospel never promises that we will have everything that we want and can do whatever we want. But those outside the Gospel, those chasing worldly pursuits and goals will never understand that, and thus never accept us because of it. The world teaches us that we should be able to do whatever we want to do. In the Wiccan religion, the mantra is “and it harm none, do what thou wilt.” And that’s become the mindset of the world, with many even leaving out the part of “and it harm none.” And there are Pastors across the world, across the Church even, who teach this same philosophy. They are afraid to offend people. On a human level, I even understand why they feel that way. We all want to be liked, we all want to have followers on social media and reactions to our posts. But Paul in his conclusion condemns this exact attitude. “Do I persuade men, or God? Or do I please men?” And that’s fully what it comes down to. It’s this reality that God’s will isn’t always what men desire. In fact, God’s will is normally the exact opposite of what our flesh desires, but we have to remember that our ways are not His ways. It can be very hard to persuade men of God’s will, which He has given us in the Holy Scriptures and through the teachings of the Church, but as hard as it is to convince men that they should change to align with God’s will, it is impossible to convince God to change His will in accordance with the desires of men. So, when given the choice between the two, who do you seek to persuade? Do you seek to persuade an adulterer to change his ways, or do you seek to change God’s will on adultery? Do you seek to changed an alcoholic’s will or God’s will? If you change the adulterer or the alcoholic, they won’t be pleased. But that leads to the second question St Paul poses here, do we seek to please men or God? To please fallen man by teaching God’s will is not possible. To teach them to deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow God will not please them. But to teach them that they can continue in their sin, to give into their passions and desires, free from any penalty, to live this “best life now,” is not only hazardous to their lives on earth, but for all eternity. And that is not pleasing to God. May we all choose to right way with whom we seek to please.
Christ is in our midst.