11 May 2018

Welcome to Friday’s Podcast. I hope you’ve been blessed by these podcasts. If they’re helpful to you then do pass them onto a friend. Next week my friend and colleague Helen Ward will lead us on through Galatians. Today though our reading is Galatians 2: 15-21.

REFLECTION:

Today I’d like to focus on one verse in particular – verse 16. Let me read it from the Message version:

We know very well that we are not set right with God by rule-keeping but only through personal faith in Jesus Christ. How do we know? We tried it—and we had the best system of rules the world has ever seen! Convinced that no human being can please God by self-improvement, we believed in Jesus as the Messiah so that we might be set right before God by trusting in the Messiah, not by trying to be good…

The whole of today’s scripture reading is a continuation of Paul’s challenge to Peter. It’s rich in thought provoking theology. As we’ve said all week the heart of the issue is that the Galatian Christians have adopted practices borrowed from Judaism. These practices have been used to demonstrate to themselves and each other that they are ‘right’ with God. Paul is passionately challenging this idea. We do not earn our salvation. The beauty, the wonder of the gospel is that God’s grace is freely given.

Timothy Keller, the leader of a church in New York City tweeted this recently: ‘Religion says ‘I obey; therefore I am accepted.’ Christianity says ‘I’m accepted, therefore I obey.’

I think this sums up brilliantly what Paul is saying in verse 16.

While we don’t face the same issue as the Galatians – for example at your cell group its unlikely someone won’t enter your house if you have a dog or a cat (they’re not kosher) or they’re concerned about whether you’ve prepared the food in a correct way. But the truth is the human heart doesn’t change. We can be tempted to find external affirmation from other places. Am I giving enough money to God? Do I pray the right way? Are my children beautifully behaved? Do I sing loud enough? Do I have enough people of peace?

I’ve come to the understanding that if we’re not secure in God’s unmerited favour – his Grace, then we can easily slip into what Theologians call ‘works righteousness’ which is a mindset which tried to earn salvation.

My story would be as I’ve discovered more and more of God’s grace and moved from earning God’s approval to learning to receive it. One of my favourite stories in the Bible is the Prodigal Son in Luke 15. I have every sympathy with the older brother who ‘works for God’ but doesn’t seem to have much a connection with God.

Throughout this wonderful book of Galatians Paul is fighting against a religious mindset – he’s calling his people into true freedom. True freedom begins with the total realisation that you are loved and accepted because of Jesus’ work upon the cross. You can’t earn it.

So today, if you find yourself thinking “yes, that’s me” then can I invite you to mediate on Paul’s words to his beloved churches in Galatia. Medicate on these powerful words that have brought freedom to so many – these words that helped start the Reformation across Europe in the 1500’s – that you are made right by Jesus. We start our journey with Jesus every day with this reality.

That is true grace and it’s the most wonderful gift.

It’s been a pleasure to journey with you this week. Have a wonderful weekend.

PRAYER:

Thank you Lord Jesus for your wonderful grace. May we bask in it today and take every moment to share it with a lost and hurting world. Amen.

READING: Galatians 2:15-21

‘We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.

‘But if, in seeking to be justified in Christ, we Jews find ourselves also among the sinners, doesn’t that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! If I rebuild what I destroyed, then I really would be a law-breaker.

‘For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!’