Deconstructing our Understanding of Law and Gospel – Galatians Part 2
We are studying Galatians in a Wednesday Night Bible Study at our home. Our study began by looking at the book in context of the unfolding story in the book of Acts. In Acts 13 and 14, Paul goes on his first missionary journey to Galatia. Paul spends considerable time in this area, which is in modern day Turkey.
Paul, while on his missionary journey, experiences some persecution from the Jewish leaders who are very opposed to Paul’s teaching of free grace. When Paul returns from the missionary journey, he gets wind that the Jewish teachers have infiltrated the churches and spreading doctrines and practices which attempt to incorporate Jewish law into the Christian life. Paul is totally opposed to the new teachers in the Galatian church, and he writes a letter in response. So the context is one of conflict between Paul’s Gospel and the desire of certain teachers to integrate law into the Spirituality of the Christian.
Now let’s think for a second about Paul’s audience. The book of Galatians is contrasting:
1. A teaching that says righteousness is achieved through law and that spiritual growth comes through the law and
2. The gospel which says righteousness is a gift of Grace through Christ and spiritual transformation comes through the Holy Spirit.
One is a message of Grace the other the law. Paul, then, makes his point by referring to many minute details of the Old Testament. Paul mentions Abraham being declare righteous through faith and that “the righteous shall live by faith”. Paul mentions that the promise was to Abraham’s “seed” and not his “seeds”. His point here is that God’s covenant for salvation was from Abraham to Christ to the believer and not from Abraham to Israel (law) to the believer. Paul refers to the story of Hagar and Sarah. The question is, “How would the readers have understood all these references to the Old Testament?” Did they have scrolls in the churches or the house churches? No. Did the gentle majority have a rich history in the Jewish oral history? No. No, the fact is the stories had to be taught to the church by the Jewish members of the congregation.
Paul is asking people with a vested interest in the Jewishness with a similar history a Paul in zeal for his ancestral traditions to look a completely new way at the role of the law in the church culture and one’s relationship with the Lord. For the Jewish believers it would take a total deconstruction of their worldview to begin to look at religion without law. Furthermore, the introduction of Jewishness and law into the culture of the church increased the status of the Jewish believer. This fact is the reason Paul says those who are promoting law want to boast in the flesh. Religion and spirituality without law would cost the Jewish leaders a great deal. The need in the church leadership in Galatia is now for both deconstruction and self-sacrifice.
Look at How the Gospel Affected Paul
In the opening chapters of Galatians, Paul writes that he went to Arabia for a time to receive revelation from God directly. I picture Paul saying to himself, “I need to pray about this ‘forgiveness’ and ‘power in Jesus name’ religion.” Paul went to Arabia to deconstruct his legalistic tendencies and let God transform his mind.
The story of the Galatian church is very relevant to our churches for two reasons:
1. The message is necessary to us directly because it is human nature to approach religion from a stance of law and duty. Religion in many communities is used as a social norming mechanism. This is our natural tendency because the natural mind is set on the flesh and is contrary to the Spirit. The mind set on the flesh is death. The mind set on the spirit is life and peace. Paul says to the Galatians , “why are you returning to your misery? What has happened to your joy?” Law leads to duty and guilt and joyless religion. A radical deconstruction of our orientation away from law and toward the Lord is necessary if we are to learn the Gospel and renounce all legal approaches to our faith.
2. The meta-message of deconstruction in general is very important in these times as well. We need to totally re-evaluate how we do church. We need to re-evaluate our mission and the structures that exist which impede mission. The organization of church needs re-thinking. Our cultural biases need re-thinking and deconstruction. We need a time in Arabia to get a new wineskin from God even if it cost us our status.
I am convinced that as we talk of prayer and spirituality we must start by radically changing our posture before God. If our religion is dull and lifeless, the answer is always rooted in a religion of duty, obligation, and burden. We are part of an endless line of splendor that needs to continually rediscover the gospel of free grace. This post is our second look at the book of Galatians. In future posts in the days ahead, I will continue to go through each paragraph of Paul’s to help each one of us come to a radical deconstruction and reconstruction of how we approach our Lord.