God can give you peace.
This letter to the Galatians starts in much the same way that many of Paul’s letters do: “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (vs 3-5)
It’s so simple and unassuming. Yet I believe there is something very significant lurking behind these simple words: Grace and peace can only come from one place—God.
They are the two things that many of us spend our lives trying to find in other ways and places. We search for grace in our relationships with family, friends, and co-workers. We may seek it out in society. Or we look for peace within the illusions of job security, health, or wealth.
But anytime we think we’ve found grace or peace outside of the Lord, it will be temporary and short-lived. There is no perfect grace except in God. There is no perfect peace except in God. Those two things are entirely within His domain, and He is longing to give them both to you in abundance!
That brings up another point about these simple verses that bears examining. Grace is listed before peace, and I don’t believe that’s a coincidence. For the peace that comes from God comes through receiving His grace first. In fact, the only way we can have peace with God is because we have come to know that He is a gracious person.
If God wasn’t a gracious person, there would be no way to experience peace with Him!
So if you’re trying to find grace or peace in any way or in any place outside of God, it will be a long and futile search, my friend. Whenever your heart longs for grace or peace, it is longing for God. And the good news is, He is more than ready and willing to flood your heart with both.
Only He can offer you grace and give you peace.
God never tramples on our freedom.
In this chapter, Paul describes a public argument he had with Peter: “But when Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him to his face, for what he did was very wrong. When he first arrived, he ate with the Gentile Christians, who were not circumcised. But afterward, when some friends of James came, Peter wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles anymore. He was afraid of criticism from these people who insisted on the necessity of circumcision. As a result, other Jewish Christians followed Peter’s hypocrisy, and even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.” (vs 11-13)
In Paul’s mind, this was a major error on Peter’s part, and rightly so, for as Peter was well-respected among those in the group, Barnabas and others followed his example. Soon, the very Gentiles they had converted and drawn into their group of believers were being “shunned” by them!
What’s surprising about this is that, of all people, Peter knew such behavior wasn’t sanctioned by God. You may recall that some time before, God had given him a vision (recorded in Acts 10) that there was no longer to be any separation between Jew and Gentile, but that all were invited to receive salvation.
Paul observed that Peter had been following the Lord’s instructions ever since—until some people came to town who stirred up fear in Peter. We don’t really know what he was afraid of. Maybe it was his reputation or his position or his ego.
Whatever it was, it caused Peter to compromise what he knew to be right in order to accommodate somebody else’s legalism.
Even after all this time, Peter was still free to either walk in God’s ways . . . or not. Even though he was one of the highest-ranking apostles and one of the most influential men in the early church, he still had the power to choose—at any time—to continue on living as he had been or change course.
This is something that never ceases to amaze me about God. He never tramples on our freedom. Just because we’ve been following Him for a hundred years doesn’t mean that we’re any less free to call it quits. Even an eternity spent with God won’t remove our ability to choose to go our own way.
Fortunately, when we veer off-track, He’ll send us a wake-up call—in this case, Paul. But even His wake-up calls are followed by the freedom to choose. He’ll never make our choices for us.
He’ll never trample on our freedom.
God wants friends.
I don’t know how many different ways it can be said, but the Bible (in various ways) keeps repeating it over and over again: God is looking to have a relationship with you. He doesn’t want robots. He doesn’t want slaves. He doesn’t even want obedient children. He wants friends.
Paul addresses this issue once again in this chapter of Galatians, comparing and contrasting our “spiritual life” under the law with the life we find through faith in Christ: “Before the way of faith in Christ was available to us, we were placed under guard by the law. We were kept in protective custody, so to speak, until the way of faith was revealed. Let me put it another way. The law was our guardian until Christ came; it protected us until we could be made right with God through faith. And now that the way of faith has come, we no longer need the law as our guardian.” (vs 23-25)
Do you know what I see when I read those verses? Parenting.
Isn’t this what good parents do for their children? Protect them until they are old enough and mature enough to make their own decisions? And hopefully, by the time they are grown up, they will have also come to understand that parents are supposed to be friends. But until the child is ready for such a relationship, the parent can’t start out that way.
For example, my 2-year-old lives right now by a set of rules that I give her. She doesn’t get to decide what she wears, where she goes, what she eats, or who she spends time with. The majority of her day is structured by me, although her freedoms will increase as she grows.
Right now, she has no clue that we are going to be famous friends one day. She doesn’t even know that my deepest desire is for us to be friends. That’s not to say that we don’t have a lot of loving and precious moments each and every day. We do. But those moments don’t arise from a foundation of friendship. They arise from the security she feels at living within the boundaries I set for her.
But someday, we will be past the training and the rules. Someday, I won’t have to require that she say please and thank you. Someday, I won’t have to require that she brush her teeth. Someday, I won’t have to require that she go to bed at an appropriate time.
But just because I won’t require those things anymore doesn’t mean she’s going to stop doing them. On the contrary, many of the things that have been “required” of her while growing up she will continue to do as an adult—but for different reasons. As she matures, I will transition from a position of active training in her life to a trusted friend, and we won’t need to consult a “set of rules” any longer.
This is how I see the transition from the law to faith in Christ. God gave the law to give us boundaries and discipline as we “grew up” spiritually. It was given to protect and nurture us until God could reveal to us in Christ the kind of relationship He wants to have with us. It’s not one of master/slave or even teacher/disciple, but friend/friend.
Once we enter into that relationship with God, we don’t stop “keeping” the law. Rather, I would say that’s when we are set free to actually begin keeping the law! For at that point, the law ceases to be some list of rules that we’re trying to keep in order to have a contract with God, and it becomes a description of what flows out of our new life in Him.
So, when Christians say that we don’t have to keep the law any longer, they’re absolutely right. As God’s friends, we get to keep the law, even though we don’t think of it that way any longer. In fact, as the Holy Spirit makes us into new creatures, living as God’s friends because we understand and agree that His way is right is something that comes naturally.
We won’t give it a second thought.
God's timing is perfect.
Continuing his thoughts from the previous chapter, Paul expounds on the idea of our growing up into Christ: “Think of it this way. If a father leaves an inheritance for his young children, those children are not much better off than slaves until they grow up, even though they actually own everything their father had. They have to obey their guardians until they reach whatever age their father set. And that’s the way it was with us before Christ came. We were like children; we were slaves to the basic spiritual principles of this world. But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children.” (vs 1-5)
As I have mentioned before on this blog, I have many friends who are perplexed about why God is waiting to bring this war to its final close. Why are we still here? Well, if I’ve never had an answer to that question before, I have one now: We’re still here because it is not yet time for the end to come.
And without even taking a poll, I can promise you that, for my anxious friends, this is not a satisfactory answer! Yet, what else may we conclude about God, given this passage from Paul, other than His timing is perfect? Is He ever early? Is He ever late?
No, my friends, He is always right. on. time.
Part of what’s interesting in these verses (especially in the light of our discussion from yesterday) is the Roman custom at the time that there was no specified age for a child to “become” an adult. The child’s father would declare when this had taken place, given what he knew of his child’s maturity. Thus, a “coming of age” in Paul’s day happened when the right time came.
And that’s why Paul links humanity’s spiritual “coming of age” to the coming of Christ at just the right time. Whatever made those factors ripe for His coming were known to the Father and the Son, although they were likely a mystery to human beings at the time (and largely still remain a mystery to us today)! What, exactly, made the time “right” for Christ to come when He did?
If we could answer that question, we might be a fair way down the road to answering the question of why are we still here. But, perhaps, we don’t really need an answer to that question. Perhaps it’s just enough to know that God knows, and in our experience with Him, His timing is always perfect.
You’ll remember that, won’t you, when you’re faced with a situation that has you anxious and impatient? You’ll remember that, won’t you, when it seems like you can’t get God to act on your behalf? Remember that God sent His Son into the world at precisely the right moment—that every single thing that came before was necessary and that every single thing that has come since is ordained.
With God, there are no accidents. Or coincidences. There are no early trains, inconvenient delays, or no-shows. Everything that’s happening to you right now has a purpose within the story of how God is making everything beautiful in your life.
For He does make all things beautiful in His time.
And His timing is always perfect.
God doesn't want you to approach Him in fear.
It seems the Galatians were having second thoughts about accepting salvation based on faith. Something (or someone) had convinced them that unless they were circumcised, God wouldn’t accept them.
Paul had a few things to say about that: “Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” (vs 2-6)
As I read this, I started thinking about all the things we still do to “make ourselves acceptable” to God. Maybe we try to keep the law. Or maybe we try not to keep the law. Or maybe we attend mass every week. Or maybe we keep a running list in our minds of all the “good deeds” we’ve done this month.
Truthfully, I’m not sure we’re much further along than the Galatians were. If what we do or don’t do holds any significant place in our mind as it relates to God’s acceptance of us, then we have also fallen away from grace.
For it really wasn’t the circumcision that was the issue. Did you catch that in what Paul said? He didn’t say that it was a problem to be circumcised. He said, “In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value.” Thus, if the Galatians were going to be circumcised in order to be saved, that was wrong. And if they were going to remain uncircumcised in order to be saved, that was also wrong!
The issue really wasn’t about circumcision at all, but about fear. The reason the Galatians had begun to contemplate getting circumcised was because they were suddenly afraid that if they did not do that, God would not accept them. That’s why Paul said that if they let themselves be circumcised, Christ would “be of no value” to them at all. If they took measures out of fear in order to “get saved,” they would be acting contrary to faith in Christ.
In the same way, if they read Paul’s letter and decided, out of fear, to remain uncircumcised so that God would accept them, they would also be acting contrary to faith in Christ! Because to have faith in Christ means that we totally take our eyes off ourselves and focus them on Him. When we do that, we discover that He is gracious, trustworthy, and wildly welcoming and accepting.
Just as the Prodigal Son discovered when he returned home, we don’t have to do a single thing to get God to accept us.
Not a single thing.
I mean it.
God doesn’t want you to approach Him in fear. He’s not a person to be afraid of. He’s a person to be a friend of. And the more we try to do or not do things to garner acceptance with Him, the longer we will be acting contrary to faith in Christ.
God wants you to trust Him. He wants you to believe Him, even when He says, “I love you as you are.”
And you can. He always tells the truth.
At the beginning of this chapter of Galatians, Paul reveals the desire of God’s heart for sinners—that they be restored: “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently.” (vs 1)
This may sound simple, even obvious. Yet, when you really stop to think about it, this approach to people who are mired in sin is quite rare in our society, isn’t it? Perhaps I’m alone in my observations, but it seems to me that instead of seeking restoration for those trapped in sin, Christians by and large fall into one of three camps—either they ignore them, they excuse them, or they seek to destroy them.
None of these is God’s approach! He never ignores sin. On the contrary, He takes it very seriously, addressing it from every angle and in every way possible. Perhaps no one is in a better position than God to understand the dangerous nature of sin. It’s potentially destructive to us, and that’s why He can’t ignore it.
For similar reasons, God never excuses sin. He would no more do that than we would “excuse” cancer if we were suddenly faced with that diagnosis. We wouldn’t say, “Well, maybe it’s not that bad. After all, some people live a long time with cancer” No! We’d do everything in our power to root it out and be restored to a healthy condition.
Having said all of that, God never goes to the other extreme of seeking to destroy the sinner, which is unfortunately the response of too many Christians when it comes to confronting sin. Abandoning grace, mercy, and hopes of restoration, their only intent is to “rid the church” of evil, and they don’t care if they crush a person’s spirit in the process. God never does that, and anyone who does is not representing Him.
The reason God chooses the path of restoration instead of any of the other three is that restoration is the only outcome consistent with love. God isn’t disgusted or annoyed by sinners. God loves sinners, and He wants to heal them and restore them to a healthy condition.
There is no way He can accomplish that objective if He ignores, excuses, or seeks to destroy a sinner trapped in sin. Love is interested in the restoration of love’s object. That requires addressing the sin, but not destroying the sinner.
I fear we are becoming increasingly unwilling to seek the path of restoration either with ourselves or our brothers and sisters in the church. But as difficult (or awkward) as it may sometimes seem, to seek restoration is to walk in the way of love.
Do we have the courage to follow God down that path?