Dear 5x5x5 Readers,
We finished reading Hebrews earlier this week, and started reading Galatians. If you’ve been on vacation this week and not reading regularly (like me!) do not despair, you can catch up quickly by reading the first three chapters of Galatians and then you will be back on track.
I am fascinated by the way our 5x5x5 reading plan has decided which book of the New Testament we read next. It is not random, but very intentional. In Acts, we discovered the birth of churches across the Roman empire, and we witnessed the apostles deciding how to best integrate and welcome gentile believers (those without a Jewish heritage and unfamiliar with Jewish cultural practices) to the community of Christians. Then in Hebrews we read Paul’s extensive arguments, directed at Jewish believers, explaining how the old system of the law was improved upon and replaced by the work of Jesus Christ. We have a new covenant in Christ – for gentiles this was great, they were welcomed into the faith without the drama of having to keep the law; for Jews, this was very confusing, what part of their old way of life and worship should they keep and what should they discard?
And now we read Galatians – a letter from Paul to a group of young churches in the region of Galatia (modern day eastern Turkey). In his letter to the Galatians Paul is angry and offers a short, withering blast without his usual warmth and encouragement. Why is Paul so upset and shocked? The churches in Galatia are not a hotbed of sexual immorality and idolatry like the city of Corinth – what have they done to earn this sharp rebuke from Paul?
The Galatians over-emphasized Jewish practices, like the keeping of festival days and circumcision. They also looked down on other people and felt superior to other cultures. This tendency was a dangerous perversion of the gospel, where trust in human efforts to keep “the law” resulted in earning the acceptance of God. Paul says NO – salvation is by faith alone, and it does not matter if you are Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female. (Galatians was Martin Luther’s favorite book and it is called the “cornerstone of the Protestant Reformation”! In theme, it closely parallels the book of Romans.)
God’s love is not conditional on how many rules we obey, nor on what cultural circumstances we are born into. Hallelujah!
Consider this: Some early Christians, like the people in Galatia, became obsessed with legalism. Others took Christian reform and freedom too far by refusing to follow anyone’s rules. Which is the greater danger in your current community?