In honor of National Sibling Day yesterday, I thought I would share one of my girls’ favorite bedtime stories about me and my older brother as a means of introducing our new series through Galatians: “The Law of Liberty.” The story goes like this: When I was two years old, one of my favorite things to do was go into my older brother’s room and play with his toy garage. I would walk into the room and see it sitting there on the table – endless ramps for cars to zoom around on and a neatly organized row of shiny metal cars waiting for a test drive. I would grab my favorite cars and send them flying down ramps, screeching around corners, and zipping up the elevator. It seemed as though I could play with the cars forever. That is, until my older brother noticed what I was doing. As soon as he discovered that I was playing with the toy garage, he became very upset and immediately sought to boot me out of his room. After all, those were HIS cars and that was HIS garage! The cars were organized just the way he liked and every time I took the liberty of playing with his toy garage, I ruined the hard work and time that he spent setting everything up to his liking.
It’s a harmless story, but it illustrates a principle that holds true for all of us, whether we are four or forty: we don’t like people ruining what we’ve set up. When we invest our time and our lives into something dear to us, we don’t want to turn around and find that someone else has subverted what we’ve done or laid waste to our hard work – especially if we’re talking about something more precious than toy cars.
As we come to our series through the book of Galatians, this principle informs the background to Paul’s letter. Paul had visited the region of Galatia on his first missionary journey in 48-49 AD (Acts 13-14). With great power and authority, he preached the gospel to men and women in the cities of Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe, facing persecution from the Jews at each stop and once being left for dead after a brutal stoning at the hands of his opponents. Nevertheless, Paul was not deterred from his mission of seeing men and women understand the gospel – that Christ died and rose again for the forgiveness of our sins and to free us from everything from which we could not be freed by the Law of Moses (Acts 13:37-38). He faithfully proclaimed this message of freedom through Christ and saw the establishment of several new churches in the region of Galatia before returning home to Syrian Antioch.
It was not long after Paul returned home that he began hearing news reports from the newly established churches in Galatia. Evidently, after Paul had labored and sacrificed to preach the gospel of Christ to these men and women, Jewish false teachers (the “circumcision party,” Gal 2:12) had crept into the church, preaching a message that Gentile Christians had to live like Jews, according to the Law, in order to truly be saved. No longer were people holding fast to the idea of being saved by grace through faith in Jesus, but now believed their obedience to the regulations and customs of the Old Testament Law was a necessary condition for salvation. They had deserted the gospel of grace for the practice of Law-keeping (Gal 1:6), which was never able to justify us before God (Gal 2:16) and never able to impart life and righteousness to us (Gal 3:21). They exchanged the freedom they had in Christ for bondage to a system of Law that only exposed and condemned them for their sin (Gal 5:1).
Seeing that the precious message of the gospel was being subverted by false teachers and that the work that the Lord had done in this region was under attack, Paul boldly writes to the Galatians to implore them not to abandon their faith in Christ for ritualistic rule-keeping. He invites them to consider that the gospel frees us from keeping God’s commands as a condition for being justified (declared legally righteous) before God and frees us to obeying God’s commands as a means of experiencing life, joy, and freedom from sin. He challenges them to consider that any message that exchanges the liberty we have in Christ for a Law that is unable to provide life is a false gospel.
As we prepare to study through this book together, I challenge us to consider if this dangerous yet subtle false gospel has root in any of our hearts, even as it had root among the Galatians. Do we view the commands of God as a means to experience the freedom and life that we possess in Christ or as a checklist of things we need to improve upon in order to gain or retain God’s favor? Has the grace of God truly changed the way we view our obedience and good works? I believe this is instrumental in understanding the “Law of Liberty” as we will see in Galatians. Through the gospel, our good works are no longer done to try to satisfy a Law whose demands we cannot meet or to be justified before God. Instead, the gospel transforms our good deeds and our obedience to God’s commands into a response to God’s grace and a means by which we experience reward and blessing. When we fail to obey, there is forgiveness in Christ. When we obey God’s commands, we walk on the path to right and good living. We are able to do this because Jesus has met the demands of the Law on our behalf so that we can be declared just in God’s sight both in our failures and our victories.
Come explore these ideas further with us this week as Pastor Casey begins this series through Galatians. Over the next two months, we will see how the gospel changes and empowers us toward obedience as a means of experiencing liberty instead of bondage, of living in the righteousness of Jesus instead of trying to earn it, and of walking in the Spirit instead of the flesh.