Friday, July 17, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 1, verses 6 & 7

Galatians 1:6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.

Two verses in one entry once again today.

At first blush, I’m tempted to view Paul’s “astonishment” as sarcasm – considering the tone he used when addressing similar issues in II Corinthians. But taken in the context of the whole letter, this appears to really be a stern rebuke – and a real sense of concerned exasperation. And if this is so, it helps explain the emphasis on God’s power, the basic themes of the Gospel, and the emphasis on relationships and the life changing power of Christ in the introductions and greetings of the previous verses. It seems clear in verse 6 that just a short time ago (“quickly”), the Galatians had a true revival – a real life change, a true relational conversion experience as a group, just like Paul described for himself in verses 1 and 2. (“called by the grace of Christ.”) He uses a strong word – “deserting” – to describe the change. The issues of the Judiazers (those Christians in the early church who were ethnically Jewish but who insisted that the Gentile converts to Christianity follow the law of Moses, in particular, the practice of circumcision) are causing people to turn from Christ – to a different Gospel.

Verse 7: But while the issue of following the Jewish law and traditions in order to be saved looks like a path of truth, it isn’t even close. Isn’t that like deception? It appears to be life giving truth, but its really a lie so deep it will destroy us. On the surface – subtlety – but deep down, it means destruction. When I consider the cultural diversity of the Galatians, and see how this deception based on clinging to cultural identity and separation is so strong, this does have ramifications for today that go beyond a perversion of “saved by grace” – as serious as THAT is! A large part of this poison is the arrogance of racism, ethnic identity, and cultural (even denominational) pride. It’s not just a lie as in “this is what you must do in your own strength to be saved,” insidious as that is. Rather, it is in the concept that “you need to be one of us” – with the implication that to be part of “them” is less than acceptable – subhuman. So the deception is two-fold. You are required to do a series of specific things in the power of your own strength in order to be acceptable to God. It's a gospel of works rather than a gospel of grace. PLUS – to be acceptable to God, you must abandon your cultural identity (which is "evil" in the eyes of those demanding cultural conformity) and conform to our standards – become one of “us!” The second level seals the perfidy, because it not only causes those who conform to reject the message of the Gospel, but it creates a spirit of disunity among those who believe in the Gospel, as they question the essence of what they believe, and are forced to define themselves by culture, not by faith. Plus, you can have the second problem without the first. My theology about salvation -- "saved by grace, not by works" -- can be right on, but I can still believe that to "fit in," to "be acceptable" others must be "like me," or at least adapt their social mores to be in line with the group to which I belong.

This gives me pause to see how easy it is to buy into this deception. One can accept the concept of salvation by grace, and yet find this second level appealing. As I have sometimes experienced the “wrong end” of racial enmity, its easy to start defining people who hurt us in this way by the very cultural measurements that caused the hurt. In other words, the victims of the cultural prejudice end up hating the people who judged them by ethnicity, and use ethnicity to define the people who hurt them. Its a vicious circle,but, sadly, something quite normal in American society, and particularly within American churches. The words Paul uses here are strong – “confusion” “pervert” because the lure of the deception is so strong.

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