Putting on clothes that we know are too small may seem daft but it’s surprising how often, as Christians, we behave as if we have never grown up!
We come to church on the Sunday, we say our daily prayers but we fail to extend a hand of friendship to a person on the streets or ignore the single mum with children who has just been caught shop-lifting but this time spared jail. We thank Jesus for sacrificing himself for us but fail to pick up our responsibilities and act as a son or daughter of God. We pick out the bits we want to do – the familiar bits not the bits that take us out of our comfort zones.
Paul had the similar problem. His letter is not to any single church in Galatia but to a number of churches in that region. He is concerned that quite a few Christians are still trying to please God by sticking to a set of rules or laws which provide direction and restraint, but did not encourage FAITH. The only mark of ‘faith’ Paul could see was the law being carefully acted out as the law prescribed and in doing so the law kept the people Israel under restraint. The response of the people was by and large adolescent rebellion. Israel did not humble themselves’; the law exposed their sin and held them under restraint until God took away their blindness and gave them a heart to trust him (Jeremiah 24:7). For the law is a teacher, not a saviour; a mirror, not a cleanser.
So Paul attempts to put the record straight. He tells the Galatians that God knows only too well that following a law would prove difficult to do all the time and although God made a covenant, a contract with Abraham it was only intended to be the start of the journey which reached its destination with the arrival of Jesus Christ.
In the time of the Romans a certain slave (known as paidagogos) would have the responsibility for supervising and correcting the children of the family. A paidagogos did not have the power to make the child’s heart good, nor can he give the child his inheritance. When the children grew older, they had learned how to behave and now dealt directly with their father and were responsible to him for their actions.
This is the idea that Paul was trying to get across to the Churches in Galatia. The law could act as a guide but it was only a start, a sort of teacher, which could go just so far in preparing anyone for a relationship with God the Father. The Law is a teacher, not a saviour; a mirror, not a cleanser. Paul emphasised that it was only faith in Jesus Christ which made a person acceptable to God. To say ‘I have faith in Jesus Christ’ and then continue to live according to the law was the same as a Roman person, having grown up and being told they were now free to develop a relationship with their father, ignoring that freedom and going back to the slave for guidance. The Law is a teacher, not a saviour; a mirror, not a cleanser.
We have a similar choice to make. In the same way that we wouldn’t buy clothes that were intended for someone a lot younger than ourselves, neither should we say we want a relationship with God the Father and then ignore the freedom that we have through Jesus Christ to chat with God. If we try to live our lives by superstition, performing elaborate rituals or attempting to earn God’s favour, aren’t we ignoring what Jesus Christ has done for us?
Just as we no longer make animal sacrifices, as was required under the law, nor are we expected to perform a complex ritual to gain God’s attention. Christ’s sacrifice meant that we can have a relationship with God, anywhere, anytime. Perhaps it is time to experience some of that freedom which faith in Jesus Christ brings?
With this freedom though comes responsibility. It is not a freedom where we can do what we like and ignore the laws and rules which keep us safe from harm etc, it is a freedom that comes from God and is dependent on what we are towards the law-giver – God. If we have a heart to trust God and rely on his mercy, then the law will feel like a much needed dose of medicine from a wise and beloved doctor. ‘This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.’ (1 John 5: 3) For Israel abiding by the laws was a large burdensome job description for earning their favour with God because it did not meet with faith. For us Christians we abide by the law because we love Him.
Those of us that drive will have at some point before taking our test read and memorised as much as possible the Highway Code. We have become familiar with many of the signs although hardly anybody can say they know what every sign means. If we tried to live by the Highway Code, we would be stopping the car every few miles to refer to the book to find out what the sign meant. Most people who drive, hardly ever refer to the Highway Code (although driving to the Meadows yesterday, perhaps some people need to!); they use their experience to get around safely. Although they know what most of the signs mean, they recognise that they are only a guide. To drive safely takes more than simply knowing what the signs mean.
Having faith in Jesus needs more than a reliance on the Bible. The Bible is an important document which helps us to understand what God did and how other people related to God, but it is a guide. A relationship with God is a living experience, one to be shared daily. A relationship that needs to be worked at and nurtured even on the days when we don’t feel like it.
Having faith in Jesus unites us to himself and all the benefits he can give become ours. God appears to us through Jesus and we are saved. We are saying yes to being his eternal child, to wearing his robes of righteousness, to accepting his love, mercy and forgiveness. As we honour and trust Him, God can not turn himself away or deny us. We are his and we are no longer under the law. We have freedom to be His children. There is no distinction between being a male or female, slave or free, Jew or Gentile. God sees all of us as His children. It does not mean that ‘anything goes’ in terms of how we live. It means we do not have to strive to become good enough, we never could and we will certainly never be. But it does mean that we are the Sons and Daughters in God’s mission to respect, love, forgive and serve all people, whoever they are. It does mean allowing him to take us out of our comfort zones to get His work done.
Paul was warning people back then and even today that a false gospel robs you of salvation and of membership in the family of God where all believers are one in Christ. It robs you of your spiritual riches as an heir of the promise. Above all it robs you of an inner peace. It is a peace we cannot create but we can accept it.
Peace is a gift from God to us. We can accept it by living in a peaceful way. The mind can often be in turmoil like a raging sea and yet God is there and offering us his peace. Peace is not an absence of activity but rather a working in harmony with the world around us. Peace comes through a right relationship between others and us, but, above all, between God and us. Peace is God’s gift and will help us to get back in tune with everything, but if we persist in staying out of tune with others or the world it is hard for God’s peace to get to work in us. For as I have said before; the Law is a tutor, not a saviour; a mirror, not a cleanser. So I am guessing that the question is; are we really rejoicing in the freedom we have in Christ?
1. In those days it was common to send a child to school in the company of a household servant who was big and strong enough to keep the child safe while walking through town. The servant was called a custodian (paidagogos in Greek – literally “one who walks with”) The custodian would take the child to school and meet the child after, assuring the child’s safety. This would happen until the child was big enough and strong enough to fend for himself. Paul says this is what the law was like.
a. How does the law keep us safe?
b. How will we know when we are big and strong enough to make it on our own?
c. Using the example of the law as a custodian, if we live by grace and not the law, who watches out for us? Who is our custodian?
2. In vs 28 Paul makes an astounding statement in his time – that in Christ, there is no longer a difference between Jews and Gentiles, slaves or free, or men or women, but we are all equal in Christ! Rather, he says, we are all one, united in Christ.
a. In a community that was split over the Gentile/Jew issue, how do you imagine this was received? How do you imagine this would be received today not just in Israel but the world over?
b. Paul wrote these words close to 2000 years ago. We did not start ordaining women as priest until 1993. Why do you think it took so long to put these words into practice?
3. What are the implications of us all being equal in Christ?
4. What does being one in Christ imply for your faith and your life?