How did Galatians go? It really wasn’t that hard, right? How about heading down to the comments section and letting us know what you thought of reading it straight through. And then I’ll tell you what I thought.
It Flowed Smoothly
I’ve always thought that the Bible was a little clunky. Chock full of useful spiritual truths, but not the best written piece of literature all the time. Part of that has to be because I’m reading a translation, but I realized in my Galatians experiment that it’s also because of the way I read.
If you read a chapter of Galatians where Paul is talking about circumcision and then the armor of God section of Ephesians and then a parable of Jesus about stewardship and then an Old Testament narrative about the exiles and then…no, there’s no flow there. But when you start at chapter 1 of Galatians and read straight through to chapter 6, there is one very coherent line of thought pursued throughout the letter.
Paul Loves His Readers
Taken by themselves, some sections of Galatians don’t sound very loving. Take, for example, the beginning of chapter 3. Paul calls the Galatians bewitched fools. If that’s all you read, you might think that Paul didn’t like them very much. But you cannot read through that entire letter without realizing that Paul loves the church in Galatia like his own child.
Paul introduced these people to Jesus. He watched them take their first steps of faith. He left them confident that they would continue to grow and mature as Christians. And then he heard that they had been led astray by false teaching. Yes, he’s disappointed. Yes, he rebukes them for their wrong thinking. But he never rejects them. He is speaking the truth in love and he is able to do that because of his past history with these people. They have a previously established relationship that allows him to take a position of authority over them to correct their beliefs. And he does it because he loves them.
It’s All About the Fruit
How do you get from circumcision to love, joy, and peace? It’s easy to see the connection if you read Galatians as a cohesive unit. The issue in the church of Galatia was that Jews had come and convinced the members that they had to be circumcised in order to really be Christians. Paul was very outspoken against such teachings, which were a common problem in the early church.
For Paul, it is not a matter of whether circumcision is right or wrong, but more a matter of relying on the Holy Spirit. If an early believer wanted to be true to his Jewish heritage and be circumcised, Paul supported them in that. But if they tried to make it a prerequisite for salvation, Paul accused them of not trusting in Jesus’ death and the Holy Spirit’s transforming power for salvation.
Paul argues that it’s easy to tell who is a Christian and who isn’t, and it has nothing to do with whether or not they’re circumcised. Just look at their life. If they are immoral, jealous, angry, or divisive, they are clearly not in step with the Holy Spirit, no matter how faithfully they keep the Law of Moses. On the other hand, if you can exhibit true love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control in your life, then God is clearly at work in you, regardless of any so-called “religious activities” you may be skipping.
That being said, there are some religious activities that should not be skipped. Paul isn’t dismissing the importance of living out your faith. But for the issues at play in Galatia, he’s less worried about actions and more interested in the motivations behind them. He doesn’t try to list everything you should or shouldn’t do and the rationale behind each. Instead, his advice is very simple: Listen to the Holy Spirit and do what He says. He won’t steer you wrong.