A BIBLICAL THOUGHT – 1
“Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God—or rather are known by God— how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.”—Galatians 4:8–11 (emphasis added)
In the last biblical thought we discussed the transition that takes place through the sacrifice of Jesus: we are no longer slaves; we are free, and we are sons and daughters, heirs of the promise. Because of Jesus we do not have to attempt to please God, or do many works of penitence, or performances, or external acts of obedience. Because of Jesus we know God loves us, is pleased with us, and walks with us. And because of this, we serve, we are obedient, and we perform many acts of goodness! And we live like this not to earn any favor from God, but because we already have His favor! It is His favor toward us that casts us into a responsive life of love for God and others. In this text we find Paul once again lamenting over the spiritual situation of the believers in the church of Galatia. He writes, “I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you” (Gal 4:11). His question to the Galatians should provoke us today as well: how is it that after you have come to a knowledge of God, a knowledge that includes being known by Him, that you desire to go back to a life of bondage, to a life before freedom? The Galatians’ temptation is the same many of us go through in our Christian journey: the temptation to find our comfort zone within our own tradition, neglecting the full impact of what Christ has done. It is the temptation of developing and living within a religion that is all about me and what I offer God, instead of all about others through what God does for and through me. The Galatians were letting go of their freedom in Christ to return to the old system of religion! Why was this? Because freedom brings change, and change is scary.
With this movement—from the freedom in Christ to the old ways—comes an immediate problem: the old system was exclusivist. The Galatians were trying to find a place within the Christian community by something else other than the unity Christ fostered!
They tried to find their place by going back to the many stipulations of the law. Paul already wrote to them that in Jesus there is no man, woman, Jew, Greek, slave, master—everybody is one in Him! But in moving back to the old system, the old divisions also come back and the unity Christ conquered is dissolved. In the old system, in fact, unity is something to be avoided. In the old system the “believer” prefers to remain in the comfort zone of living, worshipping, and interacting exclusively with those who share their common intellectual doctrines and practices. It is a system of distance and not approximation. And what Paul is trying to argue here is that in the true Christian community, in the true community of Israel, there is simply no space for anything like that! Reverting to the old system implies undoing what Jesus gave us: freedom to love and fellowship with those who were made equal in Jesus, regardless of what they look like, regardless of what they did in the past, and regardless of what society thinks.
My dear reader, may we open our eyes to our own idolatry. May we be careful not to go back to the old ways of thinking that we need to please God by how well we perform for Him (during days, months, and seasons) and by how well we distance ourselves from those who are not like us! I leave you with a quote from the reformer Martin Luther: “The Kingdom [of Christ] is to be in the midst of your enemies. And he who will not suffer this does not want to be of the Kingdom of Christ; he wants to be among friends, to sit among roses and lilies, not with the bad people but the devout people. O you blasphemers and betrayers of Christ! If Christ had done what you are doing, who would ever have been spared?"
A BIBLICAL THOUGHT – 2
“My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you!”—Galatians 4:19–20 (emphasis added)
In the previous biblical thought, we explored how the “old system” of the law created the risk of exclusivism. Paul, as a father, writes to his children in the church of Galatia with the hope that they will understand the danger of going back to the old ways and the implications for the church in doing so. If they trust the flesh, if they trust the law, then they will again believe themselves to be better than others, and will neglect the gift of community that Jesus gives to all who believe, whether Gentile, Greek, or Jew.
In this text Paul continues his appeal to the Galatians. He opens his heart and reminds them of the first time he preached to them, about how the beautiful things they saw happening in their midst had not come from their works, but from their trust in God’s work through Jesus and the Spirit.
So what is Paul’s hope? That Christ might be formed in them. Think about this image. It is probably one of the most transformational images in the Bible. It is perhaps the most beautiful aspect of what it means to be born again of the Spirit. When we allow the Spirit to do the work of grace in us, the Spirit plants in us—in our heart and mind—the reality of who Jesus is. We become impregnated with Jesus. This way, Jesus begins growing in us, like a child. And in time, and by grace, Christ matures in us. Little by little, Jesus takes hold of our thoughts, our actions, our perceptions, our words, our touch. The journey with Jesus in the Spirit is a journey in which Jesus grows in us, taking over everything. This does not mean we cease to be sinners; we will always need forgiveness, light, and grace. But it is this willingness to be in Jesus, through the Spirit, that allows Jesus to grow in us.
This is the hope of Paul for Galatia. This is my hope for all of us.
Paul is perplexed that the believers in Galatia are turning away from this beautiful experience into a religious reality where trust is placed in the human ability to perform for God. My dear readers, as you read this, pray for God to begin a work in your hearts and lives, and to continue that work until your last day on this earth, allowing Jesus to grow in you, transforming you into true living reminders of Jesus.
I am writing you today as a light spring rain falls upon the trees outside. It reminds me of a song I sang years ago in the Andrews University choir. The song was written by Bob Chilcott and it repeated a beautiful line at the end: “Here in my heart, Jesus is springing.” My dear friends, may you face the rest of this week, this month, this year, with the assurance that this is the most beautiful work of God for humanity! Here in my heart Jesus is springing. There in your heart Jesus is springing. You may not feel it, you may not see it, but in time, fruits will come from the work of God in the field of the heart of those who trust and believe. And everyone around you will be blessed by the fruit that will grow. Here in my heart, there in your heart, Jesus is springing.