A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Friday, June 02, 2006

Beyond Foolishness (Galatians 3:19-29)

In the past few years, with many of the scandals that have surfaced in the world of business, finance, and politics we have heard an often-repeated defense: �I did not do anything illegal.� The implication is that the person in question was thus not doing anything wrong. The problem, of course, is that the wrong measuring stick is being used to make the judgment. In his letter to the Galatians, St. Paul challenges the adequacy of the law in judging one�s relationship with God. Just because a behavior is legal does not mean it is moral.

Paul�s thinking becomes a bit clearer if we look for a moment beyond the verses and consider why he wrote to the Galatians in the first place. Writing this letter was not a pleasant experience for Paul and, frankly, receiving the letter was predictably not a pleasant experience for the Galatians. We get a clue to this in the first verse of the chapter from which today�s reading comes. Paul calls them �You foolish Galatians!� This is hardly the kind of greeting that endears readers. But Paul was as frustrated as he was disappointed. He had already been to Galatia. He had spent time with these people and had patiently taught them the Good News of Jesus. He had taught them of the love of God that was their common gift to all people, Jews and Gentiles. Then he left and others came along who attempted to dismantle the work that he had done. They insisted upon a return to the Law of Moses as the measuring stick for righteousness and as an indication that they were behaving and seeing things properly. To add to Paul�s frustration, the Galatians were buying it. No wonder Paul called them �foolish.�

Paul tells us that it is our faithfulness to Jesus that makes us the children of God and one with our Lord. So quite plainly, is faith/faithfulness the yardstick by which we judge our Christianity or do we use another form of measurement? And by what measure do we judge whether we have faith in the first place?

Soren Kierkegaard, the 19th-century Danish philosopher and theologian, observed many people, clergy and lay alike, who called themselves Christian believers. He noticed that many who talked the talk did not walk the walk. His conclusion was that although they claimed to be people of faith, they were not. For Kierkegaard the measure of faith lay not only in the creed recited but also in the way the person lived. In his mind, our choices, our lived priorities, the direction of our lives tell the story of what we do or do not believe.

In the last few years, most of America has been aware of the contro­versies over displaying the Ten Commandments in various courthouses across our land. The arguments and the emotions on both sides of the issue run deep. However, for some the matter is one of God or no God. Let�s look at just one of those commandments. �You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.� Isn�t it at least possible that one could carefully refrain from ever taking God�s name in vain but at the same time have no faith whatsoever in the life message that Jesus outlines in the Gospel�at least not the lived faith of which we speak today?

Leaving aside questions here of whether displays of the Ten Commandments are or are not appropriately displayed in public, perhaps we can admit that the display of the Commandments or even the act of keeping them does not necessarily make us a Christian person, let alone a Christian nation. The simple act of keeping traffic laws is not enough to make one a good driver. It is a necessary part of good driving, but there is more to being a good driver. Keeping the laws of the state in which we live does not in itself make us good citizens. It is a necessary part, but there is more to being a good citizen. Neither does keeping the Ten Commandments make one a good Christian. It is a necessary part of following Jesus, but there is more to being a disciple.

In effect, Paul is telling us that we can keep all the laws, all of the rules and at the same time not have our world change much at all. However, we cannot live a faith in Jesus without everything changing. The world in which Christians live is a world that has endorsed and at times embraced division. But such division does not fit with being a son or daughter of God.

We read that faith in Christ Jesus makes us children of God. As children of God, we are all equal. There cannot be separation between true believers because God is One. Remember the prayer of Jesus at the Last Supper? He prayed, �Father, may they be one in us as I am in you and you are in me. May they be so completely one that the world will know that you have sent me." So, as Paul writes �there can be neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free person, male and female.�

It was not by accident that Paul refers to these groups. These were the labels by which the Galatians and others in that first century world justified the divisions they created. Jewish Christians saw themselves as separated from and even better than Gentile Christians. Gentile Christians were lording it over Jewish Christians because many Jews did not believe in Jesus. In many circles, women were considered less than men. Slaves were definitely seen as an underclass. But through our baptism into Jesus, divisions such as these make no sense.

We have been baptized into the same Jesus, as were the Galatians. This requires us to be no less than they were called to be. It also means that, like the Galatians, we need from time to time to be called back to the faith in Jesus that can return us to the oneness that befit any people who would call themselves children of God.

As followers of Jesus, have we moved beyond the foolishness?


Ted M. Gossard said...


Good thoughts. Good food for my thought. I appreciate your point about keeping the law as not making us good in itself. Great analogies there. And the importance of faith/faithfulness in Jesus being the yardstick.


Allan R. Bevere said...


Thanks for your comments.