September 14 -- Galatians 2:17-21
Were you able to listen with us last time? If you did, you heard Paul telling about the time he corrected Peter to his face. Do you remember what happened? Peter came to visit Paul and the other Christians in Antioch. While he was there, Peter stopped eating meals and gathering with the other Gentile Christians, and began only eating with other Christians who were Jewish. Paul was angry when Peter did this, because both Jewish and Gentile Christians come into God's family in the same way: through Jesus's death and resurrection, which takes away sin and makes people new.
Paul wrote this story down for his friends in Galatia because something similar was happening with them. Some people had different ideas about how to come into God's family. What makes people right with God? How do you know who really belongs to God? Today, Paul is going to start answering those questions.
Today's reading is Galatians chapter 2 verses 17 through 21.
17 We are seeking to be made right with God through Christ. As we do, what if we find that we who are Jews are also sinners? Does that mean that Christ causes us to sin? Certainly not! 18 Suppose I build again what I had destroyed. Then I would really be breaking the law.
19 By the law, I died as far as the law is concerned. I died so that I might live for God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ. I don't live any longer, but Christ lives in me. Now I live my life in my body by the faithfulness of the Son of God. He loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not get rid of the grace of God. What if a person could become right with God by obeying the law? Then Christ died for nothing.
To start with, I think it's okay to notice that these words from Paul are a little confusing! Even people who study and teach the Bible for years and years don't completely understand all of them. Part of the problem is that Paul is in such a hurry. He is writing quickly, almost like the ideas are spilling out of him faster than he can get them on paper. He is so worried about what is happening with his friends in Galatia. And so he is dashing off this letter, trying to get the important things down as fast as he can. That can make it a little hard for us to read, all these years later.
What was happening back in Galatia? Do you remember? We talked about this a couple of weeks ago, but we should probably take a couple of minutes and remind ourselves again.
Paul had come to Galatia, traveled around, and taught the good news about Jesus: he had died, but was risen again. When he rose again, God's new age began; sin and death were not in control of people any more. Now anyone who trusts in Jesus belongs to him, no matter who they are. Everyone — Jewish people and Gentile people — can come into God's family, because of what Jesus did.
But when Paul left, some new teachers came to the churches in Galatia. They began teaching that there is a different way to come into God's family: anyone who followed Jesus also had to follow the laws that were given to Moses. These teachers said that following Moses's law is the real sign that someone is right with God, and belongs to God's family.
So now, Paul's friends in Galatia are confused. How do they know if God has really made them right? How do they know who really belongs to God's family?
Paul has only one answer to this: now it is Jesus who makes people right with God, not Moses's law. He uses a strange phrase to explain this: Paul tells his friends in Galatia that he has "died" to that old law. What could that mean? It means that he has given up his old way of living. It doesn't give him life! Only Jesus can do that. Paul used to see Moses's laws as the badge that showed he belonged to God.
But now the only badge Paul wears — the only way you can tell if someone is in God's family — is that he belongs to Jesus, who loved him and died for him.
I think what Paul wants his friends in Galatia to see is that there is a new way to come into God's family. Jesus died on the cross, and he rose again. When we are baptized and go under the water, it looks a little bit like dying too — like being crucified with Christ. And when we come up again, it's like rising with Jesus out of the tomb: now we are in him, and we are filled with his new life. We live now because he does, and we are a part of the family that God has chosen and made right. That is such good news. It is the very best news. No wonder Paul is writing so quickly: he can't wait for these important words to get to his friends. And I am so grateful that we still get to read, and hear, and wonder about them today.
Let's get ready to wonder about God's good words together.
Loving God: make our minds curious, our hearts open, and our bodies at peace. Thank you for inviting us to wonder about your words. Amen.
Paul says, "we are seeking to be made right with God through Christ." I wonder why I need God to make things right in me? Can I talk to God about that right now?
Yesterday, Paul said "no one can be made right with God by obeying Moses's law." God is the one who makes us right, by coming to us in Jesus. Can I thank God for that deep, deep love right now?
Have there ever been times when I have felt, or been told, that I need to behave a certain way or be part a certain group, to really belong to God? Can I ask Jesus to remind me now that he has already brought me close, and his love is the only badge of belonging I need?
Can I sit quietly with a minute and hear these beautiful words from Paul? Maybe I want to memorize them: "I have been crucified with Christ. I don't live any longer, but Christ lives in me. Now I live my life in my body by the faithfulness of the Son of God. He loved me and gave himself for me."
I wonder: can I trust that Jesus, who died and rose again, is the one who makes me alive and right with God? Can I believe that it is his faithfulness that brings me safely into God's presence, so that nothing can take me away?
Loving God, thank you for Paul's words to the Galatians, and thank you that somehow by your Spirit, they are also your words to us. Give us the wisdom and understanding that come from your Holy Spirit so that we can know you better. Show us the faithfulness of Jesus, and help us to put our trust and hope in him alone. In his name, Amen.