Galatians 5 (message)
Do you hear the intensity and urgency in Paul's message? Last week he is confronting the apostle Peter in front of everyone. This week he speaks of castration. "Stand firm" he urges, and this is no passive standing. It is active, it is war. "Do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." On the first Sunday of Lent, we began this message series, exploring a summary of its theme in the first chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians: “We proclaim Christ crucified, scandalous to Jews and moronic to Greeks”, to use the Greek roots “skandalon” and “moria” (1 Corinthians 1:23). In the following weeks, we followed the implications of this theme as Paul develops it, quite extensively, in his letter to the Galatian churches. For Paul, the call of Christ was a call to the cross, and a call to a death. First, “death to people pleasing” – If we live to please God, then we don’t have to worry about performance anxiety for anyone else. Then, last week, “death to self-righteousness”. Only bad people go to heaven, only sinners are saved. As Jesus said, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:13). In our quest to please God, the path is not paved by our own efforts, but by the goodness of Jesus himself. Such a radical negation of self-righteousness implies a radical equality of all persons before the cross. As Paul writes, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, no longer slave or free, no longer male or female, but you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
Today, we conclude our work in Galatians and prepare to return once more to 1 Corinthians for Palm/Passion Sunday and for Easter. Today, we look at another death, death to slavery. If last week we talked about the impact of the cross on our salvation – only bad people get to heaven, only sinners are saved – this week we ask the “now what?” question. Now that we have come to Jesus, now that we have embraced the cross . . . now that we are “saved”, now what? What does this scandalous and moronic gospel mean for what the Bible calls elsewhere, “working out your salvation” (Philippians 2:12)? In the language of the Wesleyan tradition, we are talking today about “sanctifying grace” – the gift of God that makes us holy.