Posted by: mikebackup | July 5, 2010


Galatians 2.15-21 (NIV)
Jews and Gentiles are Saved by Faith
Indeed, we are Jews by birth and not “Gentile sinners”, as they are called. Yet we know that a person is put right with God only through faith in Jesus Christ, never by doing what the Law requires. We, too, have believed in Christ Jesus in order to be put right with God through our faith in Christ, and not by doing what the Law requires. For no one is put right with God by doing what the Law requires. If, then, as we try to be put right with God by our union with Christ, we are found to be sinners as much as the Gentiles are — does this mean that Christ is serving the cause of sin? By no means! If I start to rebuild the system of Law that I tore down, then I show myself to be someone who breaks the Law. So far as the Law is concerned, however, I am dead — killed by the Law itself — in order that I might live for God. I have been put to death with Christ on his cross, so that it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. This life that I live now, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave his life for me. I refuse to reject the grace of God. But if a person is put right with God through the Law, it means that Christ died for nothing!

Our focus today are these verses from Galatians, with the overall reflection being about acceptance.

Paul set the known world on fire with the Gospel. Problem was he became a theological firefighter as a result. He had to tackle heated exchanges here, there and everywhere. He did this of course through his letters, but back then letter writing and delivery wasn’t exactly easy or cheap. How Paul would have loved modern communication! He’d constantly be on his smartphone, texting, emailing, facebooking. I’m sure he’d have even written an app for the iphone called ‘Getting Christianity right’!

Paul had lots of trouble and this was not least because he was a bit of a maverick. He operated away from the main circle of early Christianity and related only awkwardly with its original leaders. At times he had big arguments with them and great example is seen in the preceding verses when he rebukes Peter. The reason he had fallen out with Peter as we will see links in very well to what Paul is talking about in verses 15-21.

Paul is really passionate in his letter to the Galatians and he needed to be. Jewish Christians had arrived at the church in Galatia and were busy undoing his work and making life really difficult for the Gentile Christians. They wanted Gentile Christians to observe Jewish Law, like being circumcised and observing their special days. This was not about what the Gentiles needed to do in order to be saved, but what they needed to do in order to remain Christian.

For theses Jewish Christians faith wasn’t enough, you had to observe the law as well. This observance didn’t achieve salvation, but kept you in a relationship with God. Judaism always believed in God’s grace in accepting them in the first place, but thought that observing the law was needed to keep that acceptance. Bottom line for the Gentiles was that if you didn’t observe the law you weren’t in the church. This was the reason Paul had fallen out with Peter. He too had been swayed by Jewish Christians that only offered fellowship to those that kept the law.

Paul Rebukes Peter at Antioch
11 But when Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him in public, because he was clearly wrong. 12 Before some men who had been sent by James arrived there, Peter had been eating with the Gentile brothers and sisters. But after these men arrived, he drew back and would not eat with the Gentiles, because he was afraid of those who were in favour of circumcising them. 13 The other Jewish brothers and sisters also started acting like cowards along with Peter; and even Barnabas was swept along by their cowardly action. 14 When I saw that they were not walking a straight path in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you have been living like a Gentile, not like a Jew. How, then, can you try to force Gentiles to live like Jews?”

Paul was horrified at the way Peter had backtracked. Before the visitors arrived Peter had lived and shared fellowship with the Gentile Christians. Now it was as if he had forgotten what Christ had done on the cross. The cross was God’s incredible way of saying ‘I love you no matter what’. Faith is our way of saying thank you and accepting that love. Nothing we say, do or maintain affects that, God loves us no matter what. Being accepted by God is not a legalised transaction whereby something we do or maintain enables God to say ‘OK you’re in’. Nor is about being made right with God by saying you have faith. The cross has shown once and for all that God loves and accepts and forgives us ahead of any response by us. The work has already been done by God.

Many Jewish Christians forgot that and only accepted Gentiles when it was on their Jewish terms. Later Christianity also made the same mistake. Martin Luther kick started the reformation when wrote his ‘Ninety-Five Theses’ in 1517, objecting to the way indulgences were being operated. If you had enough money you could save yourself from Purgatory and fast track to heaven. Luther and many others concluded that being Christian was more about adhering to Catholicism than it was about faith in Christ.

Nearly 500 years on from that it can be argued that many free churches are still guilty of exactly the same thing. Faith is not enough to truly accept someone into a fellowship. Newcomers to the faith are only accepted when they adhere to a church made Christian law as well as saying they have faith.

A typically church made Christian law states you must attend every service, give generously, attend Bible studies, prayer meetings become a baptised believer, be an active church member and the children must attend Sunday School. It also states you must be married and heterosexual as well. So many churches only accept people when their own law is fulfilled. The grace and love of God and acceptance of that love by someone clearly isn’t seen as enough. Well it is. Paul had to spell it out nearly 2000 years ago and we all need to hear it today. When someone says they have faith in God, but it doesn’t look the same as your faith that doesn’t matter. We need to trust what that person is saying and trust that the spirit will guide that person into doing God’s work whatever that looks like.

Inflexible adherence to a made up Christian law leading to an inability to change and develop has brought the church in this country to its knees. It is now either laughed at as an irrelevance for needy people who want an imaginary friend or seen as a dangerous threat to society through fundamentalism. The church and its status is in a right mess and it’s going to be very hard to get out of. As a very able Baptist Minister now turned college lecturer said to me recently ‘I wouldn’t want to be a minister today, far too difficult’.

So where do we go? We go back to the simple core of the Gospel that of God’s love, acceptance, justice, forgiveness and compassion. If that means everything else has to change to keep us at that core then so be it. The church is not for us, it is there to spread the amazing love story of God.
Let me close with a story that speaks of God’s acceptance. Helen was a mum was taking a college degree. The last class she had to take was Sociology. The class were asked to go out and smile at three people and document their reactions. Soon after, Helen, her husband and youngest son went to McDonald’s one morning. They were standing in line, waiting to be served, when all of a sudden everyone around them began to back away, including Helen’s husband. Helen did not move an inch…an overwhelming feeling of panic welled up inside her as she turned to see why they had moved. As she turned there was a horrible “dirty body” smell, and there standing behind her were two homeless men. As she looked down at the shorter of the two men he was “smiling”.

He said, “Good day” as he counted the few coins he had been clutching. The second man fumbled with his hands as he stood behind his friend. She realised the second man had mental health problems and his friend was his only help. Helen held her tears as she stood there with them. The young lady at the counter asked him what they wanted. He said, “Coffee is all Miss” because that was all they could afford. (If they wanted to sit in the restaurant and warm up, they had to buy something. they just wanted to be warm). Then Helen really felt it – the compulsion was so great she almost reached out and embraced the smaller man. That is when she noticed all eyes in the restaurant were set on her, judging her every action. She smiled and asked the young lady behind the counter to give her two more breakfast meals on a separate tray. She then walked around the corner to the table that the men had chosen. She put the tray on the table and laid her hand on the shorter gentleman’s cold hand. He looked up at her, with tears in his eyes, and said, “Thank you.” She leaned over, began to pat his hand and said, “I did not do this for you. God is here working through me to give you hope.”

She started to cry as she walked away to join her husband and son. When she sat down, her husband smiled and said, “That is why God gave you to me, to give me hope.” They held hands for a moment and at that time knew that only because of the grace they had been given were they able to give. They are not church goers but they were believers. That day showed them the light of God’s love. When she returned to college and handed the project in the teacher asked “Can I share this?” Helen nodded as she got the attention of the class. The teacher began to read and that is when Helen knew that we, as human beings and being part of God, share this need to heal people and be healed. In her own way Helen had touched the people at McDonald’s, her husband, son, teacher, and everyone that shared the classroom Helen graduated with one of the biggest lessons she would ever learn: Unconditional acceptance. Love people and use things, not love things and use people.

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