(Galatians 3: 23-29)
Last Saturday morning Teresa and I got up extra early to catch the ferry over to Edmonds so we could watch our ten-year-old granddaughter run in a 5K “Girls on the Run” race. After the race we all went to breakfast and while waiting for our meal we quizzed Peder on his 8th grade end-of-the-year dance. Somehow, the topic turned to proms and his mother told him he didn’t have to worry about that until his senior year. Teresa chimed in that her senior class didn’t have a prom in 1969 due to the fact that the schools had just integrated and the powers that be decided it wouldn’t be safe to have an integrated dance, mixing white and black students. Peder’s jaw dropped as he couldn’t comprehend what his grandmother was telling him. As I’ve said before in previous sermons, he goes to a school where 27 different languages or nationalities are represented, and nobody seems to see any differences. Well, at least the kids don’t. As far as he was concerned, they all had one thing in common. They were all just kids going to school together, sitting next to one another, eating together, learning together, and going to dances together. Restrictive laws to the contrary just didn’t make sense and were counterproductive to living free in a United States of America.
And clinging to a counterproductive law is what the Apostle Paul is writing about in his letter to the Galatian churches. Paul had established this church on his first missionary journey and the Galatian churches were an appreciable distance from Jerusalem, out of the loop so to speak. The problem they were encountering was that there were some Judaizers within the congregation who were insisting that the new Gentile Christians had to submit to Jewish laws and traditions in addition to believing in Christ. I’m sure their arguments were compelling and convincing as they were not rejecting the God of Abraham, they were reinforcing it. In good faith, they probably believed that a firm foundation in the laws of Moses and the prophets was and integral part of worshipping the Messiah who was, by the way, Jewish. Paul got it, but it didn’t come easy to him. Even he wrestled with it and had to be blinded before he could see it clearly, before he could grasp the Good News of Jesus Christ. He was a Jew’s Jew. He had been a Pharisee learned in the law of Moses. He grew up in a system where it was their way or no way. That was the way it had always been and always would be. He had to make a clean break from the law and show others the need for change, for a better way. The laws of the Old Covenant, the covenant with Abraham, pointed to Christ but now there is a New Covenant. Christ had come, and we have been freed from the restrictions of the law to live in peace, freedom, and love.
Paul writes in his letter, which was intended to be circulated among the Galatian churches, that: Before faith came, we were guarded under the Law, locked up until faith that was coming would be revealed, so that the Law became our custodian until Christ so that we might be made righteous in faith. Before the coming of the Messiah, the Savior of the World, all God’s people had was the law passed down to them through Moses and the prophets with the responsibility for interpreting and enforcing the law falling to the religious leaders. From those first Ten Commandments sprung hundreds of other laws governing the daily lives of the people making it virtually impossible for any one person to righteously adhere to every single one without failing. The people had become slaves to the law. The Galatians were hung up on satisfying the demands of the law and dictating who could enter their Christian community of believers. But Paul tells them that now that faith has come, they are no longer under a custodian, someone who would make sure they followed the law to the exact letter. Earlier in his letter Paul says: We know that a person isn’t made righteous by the works of the Law but rather through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. (Galatians 2: 16) He’s pointing out that anybody, even nonbelievers can obey the law, but that doesn’t make you right with God. He says: You are all God’s children through faith in Christ Jesus. All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. There is no separate but equal.
It seems all too simple to work. Afterall, if we don’t have laws to keep people in line, we won’t be able to function as a society. There’ll be utter chaos. It goes without saying that we shouldn’t steal, commit murder, honor our mothers and fathers, not take the Lord’s name in vain, not covet our neighbor’s house and other stuff, and not give false testimony against our neighbor among other things. The principles behind the law should guide our conduct and following these moral edicts are not only just the right thing to do they are also pleasing to God. God’s laws are still important, valid, and relevant but now we have Christ to lead and guide us which makes trying to follow the law, the way it has always been done, a non-issue. It just comes naturally. Paul is telling us that it’s our faith in Christ that brings true freedom from sin and from our futile attempts to be right with God by focusing on keeping the law and missing the whole point of the Good News.
The fact is that Jesus has redeemed all those who believe on Him, whether Jew or Gentile. Racial, social, and gender distinctions that so easily divide us, as they did over 2,000 years ago and, by the way continue to do so today, should in no way hinder a person from coming to Christ in order to receive His mercy. All people equally can become God’s heirs and recipients of His eternal promises which is what Paul meant when he said: Now if you belong to Christ, then indeed you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to the promise. For those of us who are truly in the body of Christ, this gospel faith removes from us all divisions between race, sex, and class. They are as if they never existed as God intended all along.
In our daily walks with Christ, we must make sure we do not impose, intentionally or unintentionally, those distinctions Christ has removed because all believers are his heirs, and no one is more privileged than or superior to anyone else, even those who don’t look like us, don’t think like us, don’t love like us, don’t speak like us, don’t pray like us, or don’t vote like us. There are no exceptions. Now, without argument, it is our natural inclination to feel uncomfortable around people who are different from us and to gravitate toward those who are similar to us. But when we allow our differences to separate us from our fellow believers, we are disregarding clear Biblical teaching. If things are ever to get better and the kingdom is to come sooner than later, we must make a point to seek out and appreciate people who are not just like us and our friends. We may even find that we have more in common with them than we thought. Let’s be law breakers and love others as Christ has loved us, unconditionally.
Let us pray.
Lift every voice and sing, till earth and heaven ring, ring with the harmonies of liberty; let our rejoicing rise high as the listening skies, let it resound loud as the rolling sea. Gracious and loving Father of all, how we praise you for the Good News of Jesus Christ that has brought us a freedom born of faith and grounded in your promise of a life with you in eternity. Move us as we sing our praises to you to be mindful of our dark past so that we may sing a song that is full of the hope that the present has brought us through the realization that there is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, and that we are all one in Christ Jesus. We lift every voice and sing praises to the one who has set us free. In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.