Galatians is an epistle of grace. But I really struggle to apply this message to me. You see I am an insecure people-pleaser who seeks to earn approval. So when I do something kind I struggle to keep it a secret. I crave praise. Indeed I am floored by the slightest criticism. Even as I open up like this I am hoping that you will be impressed with my humility. I have wasted too much of my ministry trying to make myself popular. I am not free. Grace calls me to be free!
Are you free? Have you been able to cast off all the disgrace that has been heaped on your shoulders? Your mother was critical and your father distant. You were never accepted by the 'in' crowd. Your parents only delighted in you when you made the team or won the prize. Your first love stopped loving you. Your closest friends let you down when you asked for help. It's all people treating you without grace. So now you are driven. You will earn respect. You will need no one. You’re a perfectionist. You are not free. Grace calls you to be free!
The key to living in a graceless world is to enjoy the love of a graceful God. We need to come to a place where it is God's verdict not people's verdict that matters most to us. As he embraces us in his love, his verdict is 'accepted', 'loved', 'secure' and 'cherished'. When one hurt Christian was told that God delighted over her with singing she responded saying, 'if I could believe that was true I could face anything!' Grace can make you free! So let's dig in to this epistle of grace.
God is more committed to you than you realise (1-5)
Grace is so amazing and yet we are quick to abandon it. It is ridiculous that anyone would be so stupid to despise grace, which is why the apostle Paul is so incensed with the Galatians.
'You foolish ('mindless') Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Christ was portrayed as crucified.'
Do you see that their abandoning grace is directly related to failing to see the importance of the cross? They should not abandon grace because, 'Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified before your very eyes.' John Stott writes, ‘If the cross is not central to our religion, ours is not the religion of Jesus.’
Yet one author who was trying to make Christianity more relevant said he didn't know why Jesus had to die, and a young leader said he thought the cross was bad public relations. How foolish! Such cross-less Christianity soon becomes nothing more than affirming your self-esteem and pursuing your self-fulfilment. It is all very much shaped by current trends of thought, and is very far from the beauty of a faith that enables you to be real about your sin and enables you to glorify God by enjoying him for ever.
‘Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard?' The cross makes grace possible, and the Holy Spirit makes grace real to us. The Holy Spirit convicted us of our sin and awoke us to our need of grace. He brought us to the place where we could see our moral bankruptcy. He showed us that we had no choice but to cry out for mercy. He made the message of the cross beautiful to us. He caused us to see that life without Jesus is empty. Then as we are born again in grace we receive him.
Not only are we born again in grace we are kept by grace. 'After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?' The God who began your life in the Spirit will keep you by the Spirit. So stop trying to win God's acceptance. He is no longer your judge but the dotting father you have always needed. He is your shepherd who holds you close to his heart. He does not want you to be insecure. He wants you to be at peace. He wants you to marvel in his love. God is more committed to you than you realise!
Salvation has always been about grace (6-9)
This gospel of grace is not new. It did not begin with Paul. It did not begin in the New Testament. God has always rescued his people by grace.
Central to the argument of the false-teachers is the issue of circumcision. They said that you needed to be circumcised to be a real Christian. Presumably they looked to the example of Abraham. 'After all Abraham was circumcised,' they declared. But Abraham is actually the great proof of the fact that in the Old Testament people were saved by grace.
When Abraham appears on the scene he had not done anything to deserve God's favour. In fact he was from an idolatrous and pagan people (Joshua 24:3). But God chose to give him a wonderful promise and enabled him to trust that promised. 'He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness' (Gen. 15:6). He was not justified by obeying the Old Testament Law - he was justified hundreds of years before the law was given to Moses. His justification had nothing to do with circumcision - he was not circumcised at this stage in his story. He simply heard God's promise and trusted in his goodness.
The promise to Abraham spoke of the blessing of people from all nations. Abraham's family line arrives at Jesus. Through faith in Jesus, people like us from 'the nations' have been blessed along with Abraham, 'the man of faith'.
The amazing thing is that by simply taking God at his word we have become brothers and sisters with all the wonderful and flawed people who have been saved from every age. The grace that saved the murderer Moses saves you. Deborah is your sister in faith. Grace kept Job from abandoning his faith in the time of suffering. Grace enabled Samson to cry out to God one last time, even though he has spent his life wasting his potential. It was grace that gave Ruth such a beautiful heart. It was their shared experience of the grace that bonded David and Jonathan together in such rich friendship. From beginning to end the Old Testament is a book about grace. Salvation has always been by grace through faith.
While grace is free, it is cost Jesus his life (10-14)
But there is a lot in this letter about law? Why did God give the law if he wanted to save us by grace? The Law of Moses was given from the time of Sinai to the time of Jesus. One of its central purposes was to show people their need of grace.
This law was not like an exam where you could score forty percent and still pass, or a pile of rocks where you could remove one rock and still have a pile of rocks. The law was like a delicate pain of glass where you hit one little corner with a stone and the whole thing shatters. 'All who rely on observing the law are under a cruse for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who does not do everything written in the Book of the Law." One of the main purposes of the law was to expose people's sin and show them their need of grace.
If the law pronounced God's curse upon people, what hope do we have? We have Jesus! He took that curse upon himself so that we could go free. Again, it is all about the cross. 'Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree." In their song 'O to see the dawn', Keith and Kirsty Getty explain, 'this is the power of the cross, Christ became sin for us, took the blame, bore the wrath, we stand forgiven at the cross.'
Tim Keller points out that the Bible begins with a tree, ends with a tree, and has Jesus being placed upon a tree. The Bible began with a tree, the tree of life. Adam and Eve stole from it as humankind descended into sin. We were separated from tree of life. But in the book of Revelation we see that the tree of life is in the city of God. The tree of life represents life and vitality, as opposed to the decay and death working in us now. But how do we get to the city where we can eat its fruit? By realising that Jesus hung on another tree for us!
In his poem 'Sacrifice' George Herbert pictures Jesus speaking from the cross. 'All ye who pass by, behold and see; Man stole the fruit, now I must climb the tree; a tree of life for all, but only me. Was ever grief like mine?' 'Because Jesus got the tree of death, we can have the tree of life' (Tim Keller).
Conclusion - How can we honour this message of grace?
We can honour grace with a simply cry. You see the Spirit teaches us to cry 'abba, father' (Galatians 4:6). Ask the Spirit to help you see God as Abba! Crying 'abba' is how we should respond to grace!
There is debate about this term 'abba'. Many say that it is the equivalent of our term 'daddy'. But it is more basic than that. It is a simple two-syllable expression like 'mama' or 'dada'. It is the language of utter vulnerability and dependence. You see by the time a child is old enough to say 'daddy' or 'mummy' they are at an age where they can manipulate to get their way. They might sit on your lap, look you in the eye, look as cute as possible, and say, 'daddy can I play on your iPad because I have been good all day.' However, when a child is still at the stage of saying 'mama' or 'dada' they are utterly dependant, they can't cut a deal, and they have nothing to offer. They simply want to be fed or held by someone they are totally dependent on.
God doesn't want us to try to earn his acceptance. We are not allowed cut a deal with him. Instead we honour him with the sort of attitude that simply cries abba, dada. This is the grace that can set us free!