Galatians Part 6: Idiot Christians

The apostle Paul should have read his New Testament. The Sermon on the Mount would have been helpful, where Jesus explained, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell” (Matthew 5:21-22).

Ok, so that part of the New Testament, the Gospel of Matthew, hadn’t been written yet when Paul scolded Christians in Galatia, “You foolish Galatians!”

It also might ease your mind to know that “fool” in Matthew 5:21 is moros. It’s where we get the English word “moron.” In Galatians, Paul uses a slightly less derogatory word, anoetoi, which means “senseless,” or literally “mindless.”

In any case, we know that Paul is as angry as he can be, and to call anyone a name is insulting, especially when you are upset. If Paul were sending an email or text, he’d probably be using ALL CAPS. He’d be yelling at the Galatians, “YOU MINDLESS PEOPLE! WHO HAS BEWITCHED YOU?” Not only were they non-thinking Christians, they were also deceived, bewitched, placed under a spell.

Yet Galatians isn’t just Paul’s thoughts and feelings. It’s the word of God. If we believe the Bible was inspired by the Holy Spirit, then we must also believe that Paul was infused with God’s passion and frustration.

What is Paul talking about and why is he so angry? Because influential people in the churches of Galatia called judaizers were teaching correctly that you have to believe in Jesus to be saved, but you also have to be circumcised and keep the laws of Moses. They were teaching that salvation was based on Jesus plus something.

Paul continues,

Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. 2 I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard?

Jesus was crucified, and we’re clear on that. Yet somehow, in our performance-cursed world, we can’t get our head around the idea that there’s nothing more we need to do. In fact, there’s nothing more we can do, because Jesus finished the work on the Cross. He’s our perfect Sabbath rest forever. For me to think I have to work on the Sabbath, to work on what is already finished in Christ, takes away from his perfect work. This borders on blasphemy. Every time you think you have to do something, you are saying in effect that what Jesus did on the cross wasn’t quite not enough, that what he did was, well, less than perfect.

“I am crucified with Christ,” Paul proclaimed. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because he made full payment for our sin. Hebrews 10:14 tells us that, by one single perfect sacrifice, Jesus has made us perfect forever.

There’s more. We are saved by faith, and we also receive the the gift of the Spirit by faith, not by doing something that obligates God to bless us. We are saved by faith and sanctified by faith, as Paul affirms in Romans 1:17, “Those who are righteous will live out of faith” (my translation). So…

3 Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh [human effort]? 4 Have you experienced so much in vain—if it really was in vain?

In other words, was the finished work of Christ insufficient? Was it in vain? Paul persists,

5 So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard?

Abraham and Moses

Salvation is by faith. Receiving the Spirit is by faith. And the miracles God works among us happen because we believe, not because we’ve done something or anything to earn his favor. Abraham is a prime time example of this.

6 So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

In both Romans and Galatians Paul points his readers back to the father of faith, Abraham. Although Moses gave us the law, Abraham had a relationship with God without the law over four hundred years before Moses received the Ten Commandments on Sinai, as we will see in verse 17.

In fact, Abraham was “saved” before there were any circumcised Jews. Abraham was circumcised, not to get saved, but as a sign of what already had happened. Abraham had right standing with God because he believed, not because he was circumcised. Abraham believed, and righteousness was credited to his bankrupt life.

Paul explains it this way,

7 Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. 8 Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.”.

So a “real” Jew, Paul argues, is not someone who is outwardly circumcised. Instead, he or she is a person who has had a faith transformation in their heart, just like Abraham. Those who believe are Abraham’s children.

Abraham isn’t the father of circumcision, even though the practice began with him. Abraham is first and above all the father of the faithful, those who are made righteous when they believe. This, Paul explains, is the specific outcome God had in mind when he promised Abraham that “all nations will be blessed through you.” He sums it up,

9 So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

In other words, whatever else has come to us through Abraham (the world’s three great monotheistic religions, for example), nothing can be compared to this singular gift: salvation is by grace through faith from beginning to end. Righteous deeds are important, but they are not a means of salvation. Good works don’t keep us saved either.

Our eternal salvation comes about as a result of the “imputation” of righteousness. Not only did Jesus offer his perfect life as a perfect sacrifice for our sins, he also died to give us his perfect righteousness. In a grand, unimaginable exchange, we trade our unrighteousness for Jesus perfect righteousness.

Purgatory and other curses

Without Christ, our standing before God is such that, given ten life times, we couldn’t redeem ourselves. Ask Catholics. Their idea of Purgatory fits this idea perfectly. Some of us, according to Catholic belief, need hundreds of lifetimes to pay off the debt we have with God!

But Jesus takes our debt and pays the price once and for all. In return, his perfect righteousness is credited to us by faith. Grace stands up to Purgatory. We receive enough of his righteousness to cover our sins for however many years we have left in this life!

“My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness.” We are cleansed from our sin by his blood, and we are made perfect before God by the gift of his perfect life in us.

This is why Jesus says to the best of the best, a devout man by the name of Nicodemus, “You must be born again.” Everyone of us, good and bad sinners, needs a new nature, a spiritual heart transplant.

Everyone who knows me knows I ain’t perfect, but when Father God looks at me–and he knows me better than I know myself, he sees me as perfectly perfect. He sees his Son in me. On me. Standing there forever to intercede for me. To defend me. Not based on my generally good life and intentions, but on his finished work.

Paul refers to this in his letter to the Colossians, “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:3-4).

Anyone who thinks less is, well, an idiot. Or worse, for …

10 For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.”

Legalism is a curse. Performance-based Christianity is a curse. Jesus+something is a curse.

On the seventh day, God rested from his work, and on the seventh day, literally on the Sabbath, the day after Good Friday, Jesus rested from his work. In the grave. There was nothing more for him to do. He did it all. He did it perfectly.

So if you insist on working on the Sabbath, it’s a curse. You have to die. Either Jesus dies for your sins. All of them. Or you do.

The greatest sin isn’t sin

Perhaps the greatest sin isn’t what most people would call sin, like doing disgusting, perverted, self-destructive things. The greatest sin is thinking that somehow you can atone for your own sin, that somehow if you work hard enough on it, you can be good enough. That would be working on the Sabbath.

The Sabbath, you see, wasn’t just about resting from a long week, not doing physical labor. The Sabbath was spiritual sign, a sign that God is not only the starting and ending point of every day’s work, but that he is the starting and ending point of spiritual work, our sanctification, the process by which we become more like Christ.

This is totally clear in Exodus 31:12-13, “Then the LORD said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the LORD, who makes you holy” (italics mine).

What comes next is one of the most important proclamations in the Bible. What you are about to read radically altered one very religious man’s life and literally changed the course of human history.

11 Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by faith.”

When Martin Luther read this verse at just the right moment in his life (he had surely read it before), everything changed, for him and for the future. Just like Paul, who had been the Jew of Jews, Luther had been a Catholic among Catholics, a parish priest, a monk, a doctor of theology, a wildly devout man who set every spiritual standard in his life a notch higher than his fellow monks.

He tried. And he tried. And he tried. But he just couldn’t get no satisfaction in his soul–until he had an extraordinary encounter with God in this brief statement, which also appears in Romans 1: The just shall live by faith.

You gotta get this. Every Christians understands that they are justified by faith, saved by faith. Yet many if not most Christian do not understand that we also have to live by faith. My religious efforts don’t save me, nor do they keep me saved. I’m saved by grace through faith, and as a just-ified man, I live by faith.

This is so crucial. Remember, in Galatians Paul is not writing to unbelievers about how to get saved by faith. He’s writing to believers, foolish Galatians who knew their walk with God starts started with faith, but who also fell into the trap of thinking that the rest was up to them.

One more time for the persistent idiot in all of us: Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?

12 The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, “The person who does these things will live by them.”

The just shall live by faith, but the law (human effort) is faithless. Just ponder the the two worlds:

… shall live by faith: “The just shall live by faith.”

… will live by them: “The person who does these things [keeps the law] will live by them.”

But praise God,

13 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 pole.”

Jesus died for our sins, but he also redeemed us from the curse of the law, the maddening, self-defeating treadmill of self-effort. Yes …

14 He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.

Again, what is “the blessing of Abraham”? Salvation by faith from beginning to end. The blessing of Abraham is Jesus plus nothing!

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