I think it is amazing how Paul begins his letters to his people and churches with greetings of grace and peace and ends the same way. Then we enter into the meat of the letter which explains more of the teachings he gave and also of chastisement because the people were not living up to the expectations of the Gospel (mainly living out of love for God and each other). Paul also wanted to offer encouragement (even if brash) to keep the Christians on the path of Christ and to live by the true Gospel and not add anything or diminish any part of it. This is why I am reading the book of Galatians this month. I also invite you to join me to read it with me.
6 I’m amazed that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ to follow another gospel. 7 It’s not really another gospel, but certain people are confusing you and they want to change the gospel of Christ.8 However, even if we ourselves or a heavenly angel should ever preach anything different from what we preached to you, they should be under a curse. 9 I’m repeating what we’ve said before: if anyone preaches something different from what you received, they should be under a curse!
When Paul was preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the people of Galatia he was inviting them to live a life of freedom from the rules and regulations the religious people imposed on many of the people. Paul was preaching God’s grace and how if we live in this grace we are free from “forced” religious rules and now we give our lives to Christ voluntarily and out of love. We are not forced to live by the religious rules to “prove” how much faith we have; we live by grace which allows us to cheerfully give to God what is God’s (worship, finances, time, relationships). We live by the Holy Spirit who lives in us.
There are people who, even today, will try to add to the message of Christ. This is why we should pray, study the Bible, worship in groups so we have other people to hold us accountable and to remind us how we should live. In Paul’s time, there was a group of people known as the Judaizers who went around telling the new Christians they had to basically become a Jew first before becoming a Christian. This meant that circumcision was required, and if this act was not done then they were not true Christians. Just adding rules to keep people from really understanding grace.
We still do this today. Many of us would like to have a “check-off list” of things we need to do in order to live the Christian life. But that kind of life requires human effort and takes God out of the equation. When we live a life like this, we are in essence saying, “God, look what I’m doing for you. Now that I have fulfilled these requirements, you must accept me.” Grace does not work this way. Grace looks upon the heart.
If the motive we have in our hearts is love for God and love for people, then when we do the things on a list, we are actually doing them out of love. This is what I believe God looks at first. Not at what we do; but why we do what we do. A person can have the appearance of a Christian and their heart does not reflect it. Their actions toward others will prove this (quick tempered, impatient, unjust, prejudice).
Perverting the message of Jesus today can also look like this: we make Jesus into our image saying he only likes who we like and he hates who we hate. The message of the gospel is that Jesus meets us where we are but does not leave us as we are. We are new creations; transformed into the image of Christ.
I love this quote from John Wesley, “I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist in either Europe of America. But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.”
As we begin this new year, I invite you (and I) to daily look at how we live our lives. Do we do things for God or do w e do things out of love for God? Be careful that we do not add or diminish the true message of the Gospel to fit out needs or desires. Live the message of grace and allow God’s love to shine through each one of us.
Write down things you believe to be true of Christians. Put a check mark to see which one(s) you live by. If there are any left unchecked, pray to ask God to give you the power to have those qualities in your life (i.e. the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5). Ask for forgiveness and allow God to change you so that no more excuses have to be made (i.e. “this is just how I am.”).
God’s grace is pursing you. This is the message of the gospel.