Estimated reading time: 4 minute(s)
Continuing with my study of and comments on the book of Galatians…
I ask you again, does God give you the Holy Spirit and work miracles among you because you obey the law of Moses? Of course not! It is because you believe the message you heard about Christ.
In the same way, “Abraham believed God, so God declared him righteous because of his faith.” The real children of Abraham, then, are all those who put their faith in God.
What’s more, the Scriptures looked forward to this time when God would accept the Gentiles, too, on the basis of their faith. God promised this good news to Abraham long ago when he said, “All nations will be blessed through you.” And so it is: All who put their faith in Christ share the same blessing Abraham received because of his faith.
This is interesting today, in that I was just writing about an experience I had this morning that reminded me of the finality of Jesus’ work on the Cross. I was reminded that no matter how hard I try or don’t try, as long as my faith is in me, I will fail. But if my faith is properly placed in the one who can actually effect change in my life, then I will “receive the same blessing” that Paul talks about here.
What a slap in the face this was to all that the devout Jewish people had known and been taught. They had a rich heritage of God working amongst them. Their genealogies were teeming with examples of super men and women of God. Pride was abundant as each family gloried in the accomplishments of many of their ancestors for God. They also took great pride in the fact that God had chosen them. They did nothing to earn that. It was simply by God’s choice that they were “The Chosen People”. Still, how could that not emote some sort of pride in you?
So Paul is saying now that “the real children of Abraham” are “those who put their faith in God.” Ouch. It’s probably akin to us finding out that we are not Christians because we go to church every week, but because Jesus lives in us and we in him. That can be quite a startling revelation as well. And on par with this particular slap in the face.
Paul does not mean to belittle Abraham. He commends him as one who was righteous before God. He simply is reminding us that God did not think Abraham to be righteous because of the great things he was able to do, or the way he kept the law, or by any thing that he said or did. It was not Abraham’s abilities that made him righteous before God. It was, “because of his faith.”
But the question was directed at us as well. Does God give us the Holy Spirit or work miracles among us because we obey the law of Moses? Or because we do what our Sunday School teachers taught us was “what God wants”? Or because we live by the “Golden Rule”? “NO!” Paul emphatically declares. No. It’s not because of what you do! That should be good news, but here Paul uses these life-giving words to scold the Christians in Galatia, and even many of us today! We still try to earn it. We can’t accept a gift. It can’t really be free. We know it. Life does not work that way. But Paul is saying it does. It does.
As if tearing down the idols of their faith were not enough, Paul takes one more swing. “God would accept Gentiles, too.” WHAT!??! That was too much for their Jewish ears.
Thankfully, I have grown up in a society that many have tried hard to create. One where people are really equal, regardless of skin color or background. I am not naive enough to believe that is universally true, but a cursory look at our nation 40 years in the past tells me we have come quite a long way. I would imagine then that this is akin to that environment, only much worse (if that were possible.) Blacks were not equal citizens. In any way. Much the same, the Gentiles had no claim to God. The Jews were the chosen people… too bad for all else. There were some exceptions, should a gentile choose to undergo many rituals and purifications to be deemed worth to be a second-class Jew. But, they were certainly not first class citizens in God’s kingdom. Nor would they ever be.
Paul says differently, not because God changed his mind and finally decided to accept the Gentiles. Not because the Gentiles had a change of heart and came groveling to him for acceptance. It was shocking news to the good Jew because the good Jew was still trying to earn favor with God! Paul says that even the filthy Gentiles can get in on this life of freedom in God because it’s not about what you do, or who you were born to… it’s all about who you put your faith in.
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