BIBLICAL THOUGHT - 1
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel.”—Galatians 1:6
Last year I was invited by a good friend to visit a non-Adventist congregation in São Paulo, Brazil. As I sat down to hear the pastor speak, he opened up his sermon with the verse above. I was floored. I could not even concentrate on the sermon. I pulled out my phone and began re-reading the book of Galatians, which I had not read in a long time. What is Paul talking about when he says there is a different gospel going around the church of Galatia? As I read through the book, the problem became clear to me. The problem in Galatia was not that the new converts had to choose between the gospel of the grace of Christ and some other gospel without Christ—that is, some other religion. The problem in Galatia was the choice between the gospel of the grace of Christ and a new gospel where the grace of Christ was not sufficient for salvation.
This “different” gospel was taught and practiced by those who were attempting to re-introduce ancient Jewish practices into the new Christian church, making everything that Jesus had done through the cross and the resurrection, irrelevant to their salvation. To sum up the problematic idea: if people believed that salvation was based on their sacrifices and efforts for God, they would never understand and experience the grace that Jesus offered; they would never understand that the religion of the Bible is completely based on what God does for us, and not what we do for God.
As Adventists this is a hard truth to swallow. Even though we are thousands of years apart from the church in Galatia, the shadow of the same problem still hovers over us. We too constantly flirt with religion that is shaped and executed upon the foundation of our own works. And in doing so, we do not realize that we too are deserting the gospel of the grace of Christ for a different gospel.
By diving into the book of Galatians we can dust off these ancient lessons that are so necessary for our time, just as they were for the church in Galatia. It is my prayer that as you read the verses in this series you embrace the grace of Jesus; you embrace the true Gospel where we can come as we are to Jesus. He invites us saying: “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28).
BIBLICAL THOUGHT - 2
“For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being.”—Galatians 1:13–16
In Galatians 1:6, the biblical thought was centered on how the church in Galatia had quickly departed from the gospel of the grace of Jesus to another gospel where grace was not sufficient for salvation, where humans had to contribute to their salvation. As we move further in the reading, Paul begins to evaluate his own experience and journey with God.
Paul was an up-and-coming leader within the Jewish community. As Paul himself says, he was “extremely zealous” for the traditions and customs of the Jewish people. But this zeal created hate against Jesus and His followers. Jesus frequently taught in the Gospels about the importance of transcending the righteousness of the Pharisees. Jesus said, “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees . . . you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:20). Before meeting Jesus, Paul subscribed to the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees—that is, “doing what was right” based strictly upon what was written. When seeing Jesus and His followers through the lens of the law and this righteousness, Paul persecuted them—even to their death. This blind zeal for what was written led to death. But when Paul met Jesus, everything changed.
His physical blindness was only a sign of his spiritual blindness, and through this blindness he learned to see things anew. Before meeting the Lord, Paul saw Jesus and His followers through the lens of the law, but now, Paul saw the law through the lens of Jesus! And within this new righteousness—one that surpassed that of the Pharisees, that “did what was right” not to earn favor but because one already had God’s favor—Paul ceased persecuting people, and began serving people. His ministry was grounded on the love and the grace of Christ for all people. His ministry “revealed Jesus,” as Paul writes, in himself! This new zeal led to new life!
May you interpret your relationships, your church, your family life and all things around you through the lens of Jesus. And may you see in every circumstance of your life an opportunity for love, for forgiveness, and for peace. May your righteousness, your “doing what is right,” exceed the legalism of the Pharisees, and may your life also be a “revelation” of Jesus Christ.
Tiago Arrais, PhD, is a district pastor in Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA.