Galatians 1 – 3
I was fortunate to attend my wife’s nephew’s graduation this week. As the ceremony started the audience was reminded, “by the powers that be”, that the event was a formal occasion. Rules and expectations were established. Tradition was to be enforced. My wife, who attended the same high school, noted minor differences in procedure but held that it was pretty much the same way. As the event proceeded, a young man with Downs Syndrome came across the stage to receive his diploma. He proceeded to do a little dance and show his joy at his accomplishment. While it took all the school personnel on stage to get him refocused and redressed his classmates first, then the audience began cheering and clapping, sharing in the young man’s joy. So much for tradition. I later asked my wife’s nephew whether the young man or anyone got into trouble for the celebration. He replied “NO”, for that student was the heart of our senior class. Tradition and procedures were not important to these students because they realized what they and this young man had accomplished and the new life they would all start.
So how does this pertain to today’s reading, as we start the book of Galatians? In the first three chapters of this letter, written by the Apostle Paul, he once again had to defend his authority and authenticity of the Gospel he preached. He as well had to deal with false teachers, known as Judaizers. These people taught that Gentiles had to follow Jewish Law and customs in order to be truly saved. Throughout this letter, Paul will reemphasize the “Good News” that salvation was through faith in Jesus Christ and not in performing traditions to follow the Law. Just as with the students who broke from traditions and procedure to celebrate an accomplishment and new beginning, we to should be mindful of our own new beginning. Our salvation is based on faith in Jesus; not our adherence to old customs.
From the beginning, Paul set the stage of urgency. He uncommonly skipped over his remarks of thanksgiving after the greeting and launched into the problems. Throughout the chapters, Paul confronted allegations from the Judaizers that dealt with: 1) his preaching being unauthentic and inspired by man, 2) His being unaware of Jewish customs and 3) how the Jewish Laws were still the path to salvation. To rebuke this teaching, chapters 1 and 2 addressed his past and how God chose him and gave him revelation to the Gospel. Paul laid out a timeline showing his knowledge and zeal in Judaism, his conversion through Christ intervention and how he was inspired by Jesus, not by man or other apostles, to preach the word.
Throughout chapters 2 and 3, Paul tackled the key problem of the allegations from the Judaizers. Paul remarked that he even challenged the Apostle Peter’s hypocrisy when dealing with how salvation was obtained. Paul asserted that the Gospel was about salvation coming solely through faith in Jesus Christ, not adherence to the Laws. He used the patriarchal image of Abraham to emphasize how it was through faith in Christ (God’s promise to us) not our actions that brings about salvation. If the reverse was true then Jesus’s sacrifice was made in vain. Paul went further to explain that the purpose of the Law was to come alongside the Messiah and convict believers of their sins. There were two other purposes for the Law. The first was to give guidelines on how to live and the second was to drive us to have a relationship and be dependent on Jesus Christ.
To conclude chapter 3, Paul wanted the Galatians to understand, along with what we should take from it, that as believers in Jesus Christ, we are all children of God. Despite being Jew or Gentile, black or white, Baptist or Pentecostal, we are all able to receive God’s promise of freedom when we place our faith in his son Jesus and not by our own actions.