As we approach the culmination of our journey through the C. S. Lewis Bible this year, we will be taking several New Testament letters in giant gulps. So far, we have, for the most part, been reading no more than four chapters per day. Many of the New Testament letters contain no more than four chapters. The ones that do have 5 or 6 chapters I thought might be better studied, for our purposes here, all at once. There is an advantage to this. When we read a New Testament letter all in one sitting, then we are reading it as its first readers would have done. It helps us see the big picture.
What is the big picture in Galatians? If we had to sum up this letter of Paul in one word, what word should we choose? It seems to me that the big word in Galatians is FAITH. Of course, this is an important concept in all of Paul’s letters. It is huge in Romans. But there the key word is really righteousness. And justification is a form of the word righteousness meaning “to make righteous”.
Here in Galatians, unlike any other letter, Paul comes out with guns blazing. He is keen, right from the get-go to establish his authority as an apostle. He is fighting mad for he is contending for something he thinks more important than anything else in life…the Gospel itself. He is afraid that the Christians in Galatia have departed from the Gospel of Jesus, and Paul wants to bring them back, even if he has to pull with all his might to do it.
Why did Paul think that the Christians in Galatia had departed from the Gospel? Because they were turning to the works of the law, circumcision in particular, and trusting in these things to make them right with God. The Galatian Christians were giving into a form of legalism.
Now, when we talk about legalism today, we do not usually think of Christians getting too enthusiastic about circumcision. However, Christians are no less tempted by legalism today than they were in the first century. It is easy for us to trust in following a list of do’s and don’ts rather than following Christ. It is easy compared to following Jesus, which is so much harder. When you follow a list of do’s and don’ts you don’t have to think. But when you follow Christ you do. In certain segments of the Church, the list of don’ts has included: don’t drink alcohol, don’t dance, don’t go to movies, don’t smoke, don’t gamble, and the list goes on and on. Such a list may not have loomed very large in your Christian upbringing or mine. However, let me ask you this: what are you tempted to trust in, other than Jesus, to give you a sense of wholeness, or completeness in life? Whatever we trust in, or put first in our lives, other than Jesus is something, or maybe someone, that needs to be moved off the throne so Jesus can take his rightful place. Only you can answer that question for yourself: what or whom is on the throne of your life?
Perhaps my favorite verse in Galatians is 2:20, “And it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” I have memorized that verse, yet I am far from living it at times. For Paul, it sounds as though it was a done deal. But perhaps it is not for most of us.
What’s the problem? Why do we have trouble making the same assertion Paul makes in Galatians 2:20? I think the problem is that we are called to offer our lives as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1-2). And as my friend Tim Hansel used to say, “The problem with a living sacrifice is that it has a tendency to wiggle off the altar.” Thus, we need to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice to God through Christ every day. It is an act that must be constantly renewed in this life. It is a process.
I like the way C. S. Lewis describes this in Mere Christianity….
And now we begin to see what it is that the New Testament is always talking about. It talks about Christians “being born again”; it talks about them “putting on Christ”; about Christ “being formed in us”; about our coming to “have the mind of Christ”.
Put right out of your head the idea that these are only fancy ways of saying that Christians are to read what Christ said and try to carry it out—as a man may read what Plato or Marx said and try to carry it out. They mean something much more than that. They mean that a real Person, Christ, here and now, in that very room where you are saying your prayers, is doing things to you. It is not a question of a good man who died two thousand years ago. It is a living Man, still as much a man as you, and still as much God as He was when He created the world, really coming and interfering with your very self; killing the old natural self in you and replacing it with the kind of self He has. At first, only for moments. Then for longer periods. Finally, if all goes well, turning you permanently into a different sort of thing; into a new little Christ, a being which, in its own small way, has the same kind of life as God; which shares in His power, joy, knowledge and eternity.