This week, we’re going to move on to Paul’s main message in his letter to the Galatians. Because this is such a challenging passage, I decided to just draw out the primary principles— and teach it from those “big ideas” in the text and not try to force you to wade through the very involved sections of scripture here that require you to have a lot of background in the Old Testament— I knew in my heart that most people would get lost, so I believe God wanted me to approach it this way.
And as I say this, I know there are some people who probably can handle it and would be able to follow me… and others who fancy themselves really informed about the Bible but who aren’t and would actually get lost. So I’m going to do us all a favor and go the more practical route, because what’s really important is that people understand what God has said to us in His Word.
In the previous section, recall that Paul is laying the foundation for his authority. He seeks to show Galatian Christians that his message is from God alone, that he has not been taught and influenced by men. On that foundation, he builds the following passages of his letter.
The first of Paul’s big ideas is this: If you’re a true Christian, don’t let the freedom Christ gives you– spiritual liberty, living in freedom and spiritual abandon, be taken away from you by self-righteous people who claim to be (and may be) Christians. Unfortunately, some Christians (or posers) get lost along the way and start having judgmental spirits and live self-righteously and hold other people in contempt for (1) enjoying the amazing spiritual liberty Christ gives a person to live OR (2) for not letting those self-righteous people put you under their thumb in order to control your life and to gain praise and adulation from others because of their high standards.
Paul’s second big idea is: It’s OK, perhaps even necessary at times, to confront self-righteous people who judge you and everyone else, but who are (themselves) hypocrites. God wanted Paul to call out Peter— Peter was in sin.
Paul’s third big idea: Righteousness (peace with God, a right standing with God, being in a right relationship with God where God is pleased with you) does not come as a result of your own good deeds. As good as you may be, it’s not good enough– because God’s standard is perfection, which is something we’re not capable of… only Christ was able to do that (on the cross).
Paul’s fourth big idea is this: The secret to the Christian life… is unexpected. It’s simply letting Christ live in and through you. When a person becomes a believer, the Holy Spirit (God in spiritual form) takes up residence in you and wants to live His very life through you (we become partakers of the divine image). But if you try to impress God with your OWN self-righteous acts and good deeds, your conscience will always accuse you for your inconsistency, and you will forever live feeling condemned.
Christ was perfect, but He died to take on my sin… meaning he died a sacrificial death to pay for the human debt of sin against God.
The Christian life isn’t about ‘playing defense.’ In other words… it’s not about trying to QUIT everything— and stopping doing whatever it is that you’ve been doing. That’s no way to live. Self-righteousness is driven by will power, and it always leads to (1) Defeat, because we’re weak and (2) self-righteousness and then, because we’re weak and too proud to admit it, (3) secret sin.
The Solution? Stop playing defense and play offense…. Live in abandon to Jesus. Just love him with all you’ve got and stop trying to impress Him and everybody else.
In chapter 3, verses 1 through 4, Paul asserts that if you’re not careful, you can get so religious and ‘churchy’ that you miss the point of the Christian life. The freedom of the Christian life begins to get cloudy and obscured by religious people and self-righteous people…. to the point that you soon forget that the Christian life isn’t about keeping a bunch of rules and regulations, and about image-management so everyone will be impressed with you, but it’s simply about developing your relationship with Jesus— imagine that!
Spend your time being vulnerable with God and transparent with others about your frailties and insufficiency. The holiest people you’ll ever meet are well aware that they have issues, but know that God is taking care of it— they’re not people who are trying to front with holier-than-thou attitudes.
In verses 8 through 13, Paul’s point is that if you swap “Christian freedom” and working on your relationship with Jesus for “religion” and start playing the “church” game, you may as well be living back in Old Testament times— because when you decide to live by impressing God and people with your own acts of devotion and self-righteousness, God actually expects you to obey the whole Old Testament and its requirements, since you’re clearly no longer allowing Christ to be your righteousness– But unfortunately, this type of living will keep you in spiritual bondage, constant self-condemnation, and you’ll be an unhappy Christian with a critical spirit, always judging others.
The Old Testament Law with all of its restrictions, the dietary regulations, the requirement for men to be circumcised, etc. were certainly there for a reason at one point in history– and were good at that time for that purpose. But now we are in New Testament times— and living under the New Testament means placing our trust in Christ and LETTING HIM LIVE THROUGH US. Good deeds don’t make us righteous— that’s not why we do them… to prove we’re righteous, but because Christ is making us righteous, we consequently do good deeds.
In other words, the self-righteous person believes his own good deeds are the CAUSE of His Righteousness…. whereas the Christian living in God’s grace knows that his good deeds are the EFFECTS or consequences of Christ living through Him… and that they aren’t his own doing.
Paul then moves on, in verses 19 through 29, to state that since Christ is the only righteous one… and only as He lives through us can we live in a way that really pleases God and lives up to His expectations, we don’t’ need to live ‘keeping tallies’ of our self-righteous acts.
Me? I don’t even THINK about TRYING to live the Christian life. I don’t TRY to be holy. I don’t TRY to do anything… I can’t. Instead, all I do is work on spending time with Jesus and being intimate with Him and doing things that move me closer to Him (worship, prayer, giving, serving, confession, studying, etc.) and AS I DO NOTHING MORE THAN WORK ON MY RELATIONSHIP WITH HIM (just as we work on our relationships with other people)– as I cultivate my love relationship with Jesus, just by spending time with Him, He begins to rub off on me, and I begin to become holy, BY DEFAULT.
I know this next idea is going to frustrate some of you, but— this is the gist of what Paul was talking about in this passage..
I personally SPEND MY TIME cultivating my time with Jesus— not spending my time “observing days and by avoiding festivals”– meaning, I’m more concerned about loving Jesus and being with Him than sitting around thinking of ways to show everyone I don’t celebrate Santa Claus or by preaching against Halloween….
The Christian life isn’t about that stuff— It’s not about EXTERNALS, as if anyone cares whether you dress up in a bozo costume or not (not that, if you did, anyone would think you are a devil worshipper)— it’s not about externals, but INTERNALS– whether you are being TRANSFORMED into the image of Christ because you are so consumed with your love relationship with Him.
Also in Matthew 15:18, Acts 10:14, and 1 Timothy 4:3, it’s taught that it is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man.” The point is that we should work harder on fixing ourselves from the INSIDE OUT than the OUTSIDE IN. Paul likewise teaches the Galatians that the internal state of a person is more important to address than external behavior.