This morning marks the final study in our “Outlaw Church” series through Galatians. And while in most of our studies I’ve attempted to establish a big idea before we approach the text, we’re going to reverse that order. Let’s work through the text and then unpack an idea.
Galatians 6:10, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.”
Admittedly the way this verse is translated would be easy to see Paul as setting up a concluding exhortation based upon all that he’s written; and yet, this is not exactly the case. The verse would be better translated, “As we have therefore opportunity (“due measure”), let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.” Paul’s exhortation is for every believer, in proximity to the measure of grace he’s received, to reciprocate that grace “to all” in the form of “doing good” (believer and unbeliever alike).
Paul is once again hammering home the inescapable reality that grace received will manifest in a grace that is demonstrated. Note: “To all” is Paul going out of his way to combat the legalist by making sure we all understand the reciprocation initiated by grace is not limited only to those we perceive to be deserving.
Galatians 6:11, “See with what large letters I have written to you with my own hand!”
There are three ways you can view this particular statement:
First, it may be that Paul is apologizing for the large letters in which this entire letter to the Galatians had been written on account of his poor eyesight.
Secondly, this notation may have been Paul’s way of letting these Galatians know that, while the letter had been largely dictated by an assistant, these final thoughts were being communicated by his own hand (as if Paul is ending his letter with a postscript).
Finally (and I gravitate to this position), the change at this point in font size was designed to add greater emphasis to what he’s about to say. Example: Caps or changing the font to bold… Kind of like saying, “YOU NEED TO HEAR WHAT I’M ABOUT TO SAY!” Pastor Matt Chandler commented as to the importance of this reality when he said, “To think you’re right about eternal matters only to be wrong is a scary thing.”
Galatians 6:12-13, “As many as desire to make a good showing in the flesh, these would compel you to be circumcised, only that they may not suffer persecution for the cross of Christ. For not even those who are circumcised keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh.”
Don’t forget why Paul felt compelled to write this letter in the first place… In his conclusion Paul is wanting to pull back the veal concerning the motivations of these false teachers. How would Paul know the motives of the legalist? He had been a legalist!
In explaining why these false teachers were seeking to “compel the Gentiles to be circumcised” Paul first points out that they “desire to make a good showing in the flesh” so that they might be able to “boast in your flesh.” Because their activities were the way in which they measured Godliness, the number of these Galatians they were able to convince to be circumcised only served to add to their own sense of self-accomplishment. “How many Gentiles can I get circumcised.”
Before you see this as being ridiculous, we see the same warped mentality permeate the church today in our approach to evangelism. Instead of inviting people to church or sharing your faith as a natural manifestation of God’s grace, we so often present both as a duty or worse yet a competition. It’s the gold-sticker, merit-badge mentality.
Note: Paul says in the pursuit of converts to boost their own sense of moral-standing “these would compel you” or literally “force, constrain, or drive” you “to be circumcised.” The reality is the motivation behind their activity was conniving and rather selfish!
Also notice Paul says these false teachers were seeking to “compel the Gentiles to be circumcised” so that “they may not suffer persecution for the cross of Christ.” Keep in mind, as long as Christianity was viewed by Rome as being a sect of Judaism it was legal and avoided undue scrutiny. Sadly, blending law and grace was an easier path for the legalist because it didn’t rock the boat (with Rome or Jerusalem)! The brutal truth (especially in the Southern Bible Belt) is that “Grace.” is a scandalous idea!
Finally, Paul highlights the hypocrisy in such an approach by saying, “For not even those who are circumcised keep the law.” Understand, these “Grace, and do these things” or “Grace, but don’t do these things” Gospel-distortions are employed by teachers because they can be tailored to fit the lifestyle of the teacher peddling them.
If we’re to be honest these distortions are in actuality a “Grace, and do the things I’m doing” or “Grace, but don’t do the things I’m not interested in doing” forms of morality which allows the teacher to easily model the standard he preaches in his own life. Note: On the other extreme this also explains the motivation behind the “Grace, so I can do anything” Gospel-distortion. If a standard for morality is removed altogether, the teacher then possess the same license to live however he wants without fear of accusal or accountability for his own moral behaviors and life-style choices.
For the Hebrew circumcision, obeying the feasts, and adherence to the dietary restrictions of the Law were easy to ask of the Gentile because it required nothing of them!
If you grew up in a religious culture where the consumption of alcohol was strictly prohibited, it’s easy for you to then require the complete abstinence of others.
If you’re white and lack rhythm, it’s easy for you to then foster a religious culture and spiritual experience where hand-clapping and dancing are frowned upon in church.
If it’s been engrained in your Christian-psyche since childhood that God requires your Sunday-best, it’s then easy for you to promote the same type of moralism generally.
And yet, Paul is clear the hypocrisy behind this approach rest is the fact that requiring obedience to any part of the Law dictates obedience to every part of the Law.
Sadly, the legalist refuses to carry out their legalism beyond their own proclivities because they themselves would eventually stand under the same weight of moral condemnation. Anytime you feel legalisms appeal to your flesh never forget you only have two options: You are either under all of the Law or you’re always under God’s amazing grace!
Galatians 6:14-15, “But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation.”
Let’s unpack this… Paul is clear that “neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails (or has the power to do) anything!” Neither the things you do or refrain from doing for God have any baring on your eternal justification before God, the maintaining of this righteous position, or your practical ability to develop a life of Godliness!
The only thing that has the power to make you into “a new creation” is to be simply found “in Christ Jesus!” Note: The idea behind this word “creation” is “founding.” What Paul means in using this term is that because of the “cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (and more specifically the work Christ accomplished on that cross) you have now been given a new foundation the Law could never provide. The man of sin has been done away with. You are now found on righteous footing apart from your involvement!
“By whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world…” Paul is reiterating the idea that as “a new creation” you need nothing from this world. Because of the new identity you’ve been grated based in Christ on account you’ve been crucified with Christ, you no longer need to seek from the world things it can never provide. You belong to Jesus.
And since this is your new reality… “God forbid you boast in” or “find glory in” anything “except the cross!” While legalism boasts in things other than the cross (things I do or don’t do), how silly a notion when nothing else matters apart from Jesus’ work of atonement!
Galatians 6:16, “And as many as walk according to this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.”
“And as many walk according to this rule…” In the Greek this word “rule” means “straight-line.” Paul’s point is that this new life founded in Jesus is the only way God is asking His people (“the Israel of God”) to live! Though legalism tries to reform the flesh, regeneration is the only mechanism by which a human heart is transformed. Walk in grace, not law!
Paul says the result of you “walking according to this rule” is that “peace and mercy” will “be upon” you. As noted in our first few studies the only way to peace with God is to experience the grace of God. There can never be peace for the legalist because he never knows if he’s done enough or is doing enough to appease the righteous requirements of God.
Paul also mentions for the first time in this letter the idea of “mercy.” If grace is God giving us the things we don’t deserve, mercy can be defined as God not giving us the things we do! In the Greek the word itself simply means “to change the subject.” In the face of all of those things that might discredit us from being recipients of God’s amazing grace, in His abundant mercy, God simply changes the subject to the cross.
Galatians 6:17, “From now on let no one trouble me, for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.”
What is Paul referring to when he mentions “the marks of the Lord Jesus?” In the Greek this word “marks” is “stigma.” According to Catholic persuasion the idea of a Stigmata occurs when a person supernaturally bears in the flesh the wounds of Christ. And yet, the idea of “bearing in my body the marks of” wasn’t a foreign concept to this Galatian audience. In Roman society it was commonplace to be physically branded with the name of someone you had sworn your allegiance to follow. Note: Physical branding was common in pagan worship, military practice, and even slave culture.
Though it may be that Paul is pointing to his physical scars (many of which he received when he originally took the Gospel into Galatia) as a badge of honor and loyalty to Jesus, it is more likely he’s playing off this common cultural practice to illustrate his point. As though Paul is saying with a measure of pride that he had completely surrendered his life to the allegiance of the true God - Jesus, his commanding officer, his master.
Galatians 6:18, “Brethren, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.”
As we approach the conclusion of Paul’s letter to the Galatians I do think there is one final question that demands our consideration… If grace is such a wonderfully liberating reality, then why is it that so many people willingly choose to reject it?
While on the surface one might immediately point to pride and the existence of religious moralism as the chief motivator behind the legalism, I’m convinced the rejection and resistance of grace bubbles forth from a much deeper well… A desire for fairness!
Understand, justice is more than the act of being just and fair. Human Justice can be defined as a moral rightness based on ethics, rationality, collective law, natural law, religion, or equity, along with the punishment of the breach of said ideals. Basically, justice is both the act of being fair, the judgment of those who aren’t, and the administering of necessary reparations to re-level the playing field.
Keep in mind… The concept of justice (and the necessity of judgment) and our propensity and longing for fairness is an idea that transcends race, culture, ethnicity, and religion and one that strikes deep within the core of the human spirit.
As a matter of fact, studies have show that the human desire for fairness is actually wired into our very genetics. In 2008, a UCLA study of fairness and how it relates to the human brain observed that “fairness activated the exact same part of the brain that responds to food.” The study concluded that since reactions to fairness are “wired” into the human brain, the notion of being treated fairly satisfies a basic biological need.
What is interesting is that sociological experiments have shown that human beings will even forgo personal gain in order to right a situation that has a perceived measure of unfairness. This reality has been illustrated by an exercise known as the “Ultimatum Game.”
Here’s how the game works… Two people are seated across from each other with one of the two (named the Dictator) charged with the task of dividing a fixed amount of money between the two players however they see fit. But there is one catch… The Recipient is allowed to veto the deal which results in neither subjects receiving any of the money. More often than not what this game reveals is that anytime the Dictator divides the money in a way that is perceived by the Recipient to be less than fair the deal will be vetoed. In a sense because the Recipient feels they’re being treated unfairly they’ll end up preferring to punish the Dictator for their injustice even at the expense of getting any part of the pie.
Though this propensity for fairness manifests itself in politics and the formation of public policy both domestically and geopolitically, our longing to be treated fairly is the foundation for a religious concept that permeates our social landscape… Karma!
Tyller Myers was your normal 19-year-old teenager with an F-150 who had made a habit of stealing stop-signs in his home town of Norwalk, Ohio. Sadly, one night while driving home Tyller was t-boned and killed by a semi. What happened? Tyller blew straight through an intersection because someone had stolen the stop-sign! One article cited, “It was like God was playing a cosmic game of irony pool, and Myers was the 8 Ball.”
Introduced by the beatniks of Greenwich Village sometime during the 60’s, today the idea of Karma and Karmic Justice is all over mainstream, American pop-culture (even referenced by newscasters). As one expert on societal trends remarked, “People have embraced karma because it helps explain why something good or bad happens.”
In actuality, this idea of Karma was the entire premise behind the NBC hit show “My Name is Earl.” In the show Earl, who’s new found life-motto is “Do good things and good things happen. Do bad things and bad things happen,” attempts to atone for a life of misdeeds and disfunction by doing good things for the people he’s wronged in the past.
According to the teachings of Buddha Karma states that “actions bring upon oneself inevitable results, good or bad, either in this life or in our future incarnation.” In other words, in the end, life is fair! Everyone eventually gets what they deserve! Regardless of the moment, good deeds are always rewarded and bad ones punished.
This is what makes the cross such an offense and why it is that people struggle with the idea of grace. Not only does the cross completely contradict the concept of Karma (Jesus in no way deserved the brutal nature of His death), but it violates our sensibility for fairness. The idea of grace, that God would grant His favor indiscriminately and independently of human involvement, is resisted because it doesn’t come across as being all that equitable.
People struggle with the notion that a person who’s given their entire life to following Jesus and being a good person from a young age can share the same destiny with the mass-murderer who makes a deathbed profession of faith in Jesus’ work on the cross. If we’re honest even the legalist in us cringes as the thought of someone who’s lived a life of sin and wickedness coming to Christ and immediately receiving the identical status we possess of being a son or daughter of Jesus and co-heir of all the Father’s promises.
This explains why we’re so quick to warp the Biblical concept of “sowing and reaping” into our own form of Christian-Karma so that we can differentiate status and standing among believers. There is an aspect of legalism and Law that comes across as being fair; and yet, the doctrine of grace completely blows this conviction out of the water!
Here’s the truth… While it’s true the fairness of grace is evident when one understands “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” and that there is no fundamental difference between all people not named Jesus, in a practical sense grace isn’t designed to be fair!
To this point in Luke 15 Jesus tells the story of the Prodigal Son. Here’s how the story ends, “And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry. Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.’
But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him. So he answered and said to his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.’”
In his book “The Prodigal God” Timothy Keller makes this observation, “Neither son loved the father for himself. They both were using the father for their own self-centered ends rather than loving, enjoying, and serving him for his own sake. This means that you can rebel against God and be alienated from him either by breaking his rules or by keeping all of them diligently. It's a shocking message: Careful obedience to God's law may serve as a strategy for rebelling against God.” And yet, “Jesus the storyteller deliberately leaves the elder brother in his alienated state. The bad son enters the father’s feast but the good son will not. The lover of prostitutes is saved, but the man of moral rectitude is still lost. We can almost hear the Pharisees gasp as the story ends. It was the complete reversal of everything they had ever been taught.”
Ultimately, you have to ask yourself this very important question, “Do you want God to be fair with you? Do you want your interactions with Him to be on the basis of what you deserve?” You see the reality is that grace is such a revolutionary concept because it provides you a way to approach God that isn’t based upon His fairness but rather His goodness.
In conclusion… Do you want God to be fair or would you prefer to bask in His incredible grace? Do you want to be in-law, under-law or would you prefer to be an Outlaw?
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