Here we are at week 3 looking at rules vs grace. I didn’t mean this to be a 3 week series, but that is what it’s turned out to be!
We’re still with the Galatian people and although this letter can seem very harsh at times I think there is more to this than just the words. Paul is being Paul’s best self and I think we need remember what I said last week – that there are many theologians and scholars who have spent much time trying to work out a systematic pattern to Paul’s thoughts and beliefs. Please keep that statement in mind as we wade through these dense passages.
Another thing to remember is that most of the Jesus-followers in Galatia would have been Gentiles. Paul’s frustration and anger is not so much directed toward them as directed on their behalf. He wants them to know, without a doubt, that they are fully accepted into the Christian community; that their lack of understanding of—even their lack of obedience to—the Law does not inhibit their relationship with God through Jesus.
Imagine a group of First Century Gentiles, gathered in someone’s home to worship God and to learn more about Jesus. Their primary scripture at this point is the Septuagint—the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures. They have just been told by a group of esteemed Jesus-followers from Jerusalem that they have to follow the Law— circumcision, dietary regulations—in order to be “real” Christians. And then someone gathered in that house pulled out a papyrus and read a message from Paul: “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.”
This is the word of grace that Paul brings to the Gentiles. It is the reminder that it is by faith we are saved, not by works. It reminds us that we are fully part of the community of God. And it reminds us that they are also fully part of the community. No, actually, it reminds us that they are we = all one in Christ Jesus.