Sunday, July 10, 2011

Galatians: Sermon 1

I wasn’t able to hear the first sermon of the Galatians series in person because I attended a wedding in Wisconsin last weekend; but I video streamed the sermon on Wednesday and took notes. I encourage you to keep up with the series in the same way: ( I also began reading FFOZ’s book on Galatians and will draw upon it as needed (Thomas Lancaster is the author).
Pastor Paul (I’ll refer to him hereafter by his last name: Hontz, to avoid confusion with the Apostle Paul) emphasized that, unlike the Apostle Paul’s other letters, this one opens with a negative attitude; Paul is angry over the meddling of the Judaizers, as they’ve come to be known in most evangelical circles. To be sure, Paul condemns them in harsh language for their stance. But the word Judaize pejoratively brings in associations that are not healthy to a correct understanding of the situation then and now. Because this group plays such a pivotal role in the story-line of the letter, Lancaster is careful to portray them in the “right way”. He calls them the “influencers” and imagines that they were likely Messianic believers, albeit ones who are in error. 
Hontz defines Judaizers as those who contend that true faith is Jesus plus something else, and in this case it was circumcision. This combination Hontz equates with the “different Gospel” that is mentioned in the letter. As far as salvation goes, Jesus plus nothing else is pure Grace; this fact distinguishes Biblical Christianity from all other religions in the world. The world is full of idolatry and self worship; the Gospel requires repentance, which requires humility: Matthew 10:39  "He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.” It is thus totally at odds with what the world thinks is important.
The Gospel as Paul saw it was later expressed in his letter to the Corinthians I-15:1-9 “Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you--unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time. For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.”
Gal 1:6-7 “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.”
Toward the end of the sermon, Hontz gave an example about what he thinks this “different Gospel” was; these Judaizers were wanting these new converts to “keep the Mosaic Law” in order to complete their salvation. What is a little disconcerting is that John 14:15 was quoted at the beginning of the sermon which seems to contradicts this: "If you love Me, keep My commandments.” The issue, as I see it, is not the keeping of the commandments, but the changing of the Gentile’s status. The Gentile believers in Messiah were a new phenomenon and it took a Revelation from the Messiah Himself to explain how the Apostles should handle it. He communicated God’s thoughts on the matter to Peter with a vision in Acts 10. He communicated to Paul with a blinding encounter on the road to Damascus and provided subsequent revelations in Arabia. 
Lancaster emphasized that Paul’s Gospel was different in that he learned it directly from God. The Gospel as described in I Corinthians 15:1-9 (above) is the same Gospel that Peter, or James was telling, with one difference. Paul was introducing the radical idea that Gentiles could be saved without becoming Jewish.
Lancaster (on pages 14-15) summarizes the three types of believers which are mentioned in Acts 13:26 "Brothers, Sons of Abraham, and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent.” as:
  • “Brothers” were Jews who are legally Jewish by birth.
  • “Sons of Abraham” were Proselytes, who were non-Jews who formally converted to Judaism. Part of this conversion process is for a male to undergo circumcision. Immersion in a Mikvah is also part of the process. Proselytes were considered as Jews by other Jews, which means they also took upon themselves the legal and moral obligations that go with that. Of interest to note is that Rome allowed Jews special privileges and protections which would have been extended to proselytes as well.
  • God-fearing Gentiles were non-Jews who had a high regard for the Biblical God and the Scriptures. They worshipped in the synagogue and, as was mentioned in Luke 7, their financial contributions were appreciated by the Jewish members. But while they weren’t exactly pagan anymore, they were not considered as Jews either. They were tolerated until their numbers began increasing through the preaching of Paul. Acts 13:44-45 brings this out well: “On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and talked abusively against what Paul was saying.”

Paul wrote Galatians to the God-fearing Gentiles. He received a revelation from God that the Gentiles did not have to become Jewish to be saved. The influencers were confusing the picture by saying the Gentile believers had to become Jewish first to be really saved. While there is a commandment that the male child of a Jewish family should be circumcised, there is no official extension of this to a Gentile believer. Any such requirements were introduced as part of the Oral Law. God’s opinion comes first and he loosened the Gentiles from having to do this and instructed Paul to spread the word. But  this loosening does not mean God’s commandments are abrogated. The “Mosaic Law” does not represent the opposite of freedom. It is very easy for Church sermons to seize this point and run in the wrong direction, much like a dog who breaks through a fence and runs away into oncoming traffic. 
Speaking of this topic and analogy, the week before, Central had a wonderful guest speaker named Everett Piper, who is the president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University. His sermon was called “Why I am a liberal and other Conservative ideas.” He contrasted the world’s world-view, which is obsessed with vanity and self love with the Biblical world-view. He likened the Biblical world-view to how a dog relates to his master. If the dog is allowed to run free (in a place where there are dangerous roads), then they are likely to be hit by a car and suffer. But if they respect the fences that enclose their master’s yard or the leash that keeps them close, then they will have the freedom to enjoy life with the master and in the master’s yard. Leaders who have a worldly world-view are opinionated and their opinions have caused great suffering and death throughout the world. 
God’s commandments are like fences in that they give us freedom to run and play without getting into trouble. Interestingly enough, in the centuries before the New Testament, the scribes and Pharisees built additional fences around the fences. It was often these extra fences that Jesus had to break down to let his disciples, such as Peter, be free to accept Gentiles into the new movement called The Way. More on that later.

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