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The apostle Paul’s central message

November 14, 2023

Daily Scripture

Galatians 2:19-3:7

19 I died to the Law through the Law, so that I could live for God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. And the life that I now live in my body, I live by faith, indeed, by the faithfulness of God’s Son, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I don’t ignore the grace of God, because if we become righteous through the Law, then Christ died for no purpose.
3:1 You irrational Galatians! Who put a spell on you? Jesus Christ was put on display as crucified before your eyes! 2 I just want to know this from you: Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the Law or by believing what you heard? 3 Are you so irrational? After you started with the Spirit, are you now finishing up with your own human effort? 4 Did you experience so much for nothing? I wonder if it really was for nothing. 5 So does the one providing you with the Spirit and working miracles among you do this by you doing the works of the Law or by you believing what you heard?
6 Understand that in the same way that Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness [Genesis 15:6], 7 those who believe are the children of Abraham.

Daily Reflection & Prayer

Paul’s letter “to the Galatians” addressed the churches he planted on that first missionary tour in Asia Minor with Barnabas. Claims that Paul hadn’t told them the whole truth, and that God did require them to follow rituals for salvation, frightened some of those believers. Paul used strong language in his letter. Letting the Christian Pharisees require rituals like circumcision, he said, was “irrational.” Faith in Jesus and trust in the Holy Spirit, not dutiful rites, had changed the Galatians’ lives.

  • Paul wasn’t talking about a technical detail. Scholar N. T. Wright wrote, “It isn’t a matter of a few twists and turns in the interpretation of the gospel, or… of the Jewish law. It isn’t simply about one style of missionary policy as against another. It is a matter of who you are in the Messiah. It’s as basic as that.” * Do you see yourself as a person who calls on Jesus only when you need to, or have you come to see your whole identity rooted “in Christ,” in Jesus who died for you?
  • Until Paul told them about Jesus, most of the Galatian Christians were going about their day-to-day lives, not following scrupulous religious rituals. So, Paul asked, “How did your new life begin? Was it by working your heads off to please God? Or was it by responding to God’s Message to you?” ** How would you answer his question? Are the good things you do an effort to impress God and earn salvation, or a response to God’s grace and forgiveness changing your life?

Lord Jesus, keep setting me free to live in the wonder of your self-giving love for me. Keep me growing in my ability to root my whole identity in being your loved, redeemed child. Amen.

GPS Insights

Picture of Brandon Gregory

Brandon Gregory

Brandon Gregory is a volunteer for the worship and missions teams at Church of the Resurrection. He helps lead worship at Leawood's modern worship services, as well as at the West and Downtown services, and is involved with the Malawi missions team at home.

In high school, I was friends with people from a lot of social circles—and in the 90s, we had a lot of names for various social circles. The teen movies from the 80s and 90s told us that we weren’t supposed to talk to each other, so we all felt like we were enlightened whenever we reached across those boundaries. But there’s one group I want to talk about today.

You know how, in Harry Potter, there was the Hufflepuff house that basically said we’ll just take anybody that doesn’t fit in with one of the other three houses? That was a social circle when I was in high school: people who weren’t in with the popular crowd, who didn’t play sports or enroll in a lot of academic clubs, who didn’t get really into a genre of music and wear T-shirts to advertise that. In the past, this group was referred to as nerds, but that word was falling out of vogue in the 90s. Regardless of what they were called, this was a group that didn’t really fit in with any of the other social groups, so they banded together to form their own. They were often into science fiction and table-top roleplaying games, and they were all really good at math for some reason. (It was probably the table-top roleplaying games, those have a lot of math.) I had a lot of friends in this group, even though I kind of floated around other groups too.

I saw an interesting phenomenon sometime in the middle of my high school experience when a girl wanted to join this group. She didn’t find them very welcoming. I overheard some of the conversations about her, saying that she wasn’t really a science fiction fan because she didn’t know what kind of shuttle Darth Vader rode to visit the Emperor, and that she wasn’t really into table-top roleplaying games because she couldn’t articulate the main differences between a Fighter and a Barbarian. They said she was shallow and unintellectual and pretty much decided that she didn’t deserve a place among them.

I didn’t have the social awareness to see the irony in this. This group of people that was brought together because they didn’t fit in anywhere else was now making rules for membership? They were rejecting people who didn’t meet their new requirements? To borrow a term from table-top roleplaying games, that’s a low-Wisdom move.

This illustrates a very important part of human nature, though. No matter what it is that brings a group together, we find a shared identity with the groups we’re in. We admire the parts of that group we like and take pride in meeting those requirements because we all want to believe that whatever we’re doing is the best way to do things. But more importantly, we often don’t want to accept people who have not suffered the way that we have suffered.

The group of people I mentioned above wasn’t brought together because of their common interests; they were brought together because of their shared suffering. Similarly, although a lot of our social groups do come together for common interests, we often have unwritten standards for what we’ve given up to be in that group, and if someone doesn’t pay that same price that we did, it feels like cheating—and we don’t like that.

So many of today’s arguments—across generational boundaries, political boundaries, and, yes, across religious boundaries—ultimately boil down to not thinking it’s fair that someone claims to be a part of our group without paying the price we did, whether socially, financially, or in any other way. And this happens in just about every group we form, even if that group is formed out of a rejection of definitions and exclusivity.

Jesus’ message was so radical—and so hard to accept—because it goes directly contrary to this human instinct. We might feel like we’re enlightened because we love Jesus, but there are a lot of very religious people who find more identity in drawing lines than erasing them. I’ll be honest—even though I’m very aware of this problem, I constantly catch myself making up new rules for others to follow—sometimes for groups that don’t even exist that I just made up. Don’t get me wrong—many rules are important and help us live better lives. But those rules don’t ever put someone outside of the grace of God, and they should not put people outside of our love either.

© 2024 Resurrection: A United Methodist Church. All Rights Reserved.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Common English Bible ©2011. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

* Wright, N. T., Paul for Everyone: Galatians and Thessalonians (The New Testament for Everyone) (p. 23). Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.
** From Galatians 3:2 in Eugene H. Peterson, The Message. NavPress, 1993-2002.