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Christianity versus Religion: Some Thoughts on Galatians 3:1-5

26 July, 2010

b picThese are some notes and observations on a sermon preached by Barry Douglas, available here, first posted 4 May 2009.

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain — if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?

What are ‘religious works’? Well, it all depends on what ‘religious’ and ‘religion’ mean; for Paul here, they’re certainly not the outflow of the communal Christian life of fruit and faithfulness. Some of the Galatians are rather seeking after righteousness or uprightness through rites and ceremonies on one hand or personal standing or piety on the other (and most often its both in conjunction). But does it matter if we’re a little ‘religious’ in this sense, looking to Jesus while ‘supplementing’ him and his work with personal and corporate status or words or actions or feelings that are intended to ‘clinch’ the certainty of our redemption? Paul calls the Galatians foolish — Christianity looks from first to last to our redemption from ourselves and the spirit of the present age by God in Christ, and to our life with him and one another in the age to come by the Spirit, by grace alone through faith alone.

There are six questions in these verses, summed up in the second: did we receive the Spirit by works or by faith? Paul draws them and us to consider our own experience of redemption, as we have by the Spirit trusted in Christ and not in ourselves. If we have all become Christians in this way, can our progressbe according to any other principle or power than our beginning?

If Christ is enough, then nothing else is necessary, and precisely for this reason any other thing called ‘necessary’ is very dangerous, and this is the particular understanding of ‘religiosity’ that can be dangerous as well. ’Grace’ is in such circumstances is no longer recognized for what it is –purely gracious — and that’s misleading and hope-draining with respect to ourselves, each other, and the watching world. If we ask, Is Christ enough? Is he the ‘one thing necessary’? (Luke 10:38-42), Paul has already answered emphatically, YES.

Paul ‘placarded’ or ‘billboarded’ Christ and him crucified before the Galatians in his preaching and teaching, and did they think they could contribute something to that work? Since we take from the gospel whenever we add to it, therefore, let us be satisfied with its overflowing fullness. We have all we need in Christ on our behalf and the Holy Spirit within us, granting true grace and true peace because they are truly and wholly gracious and peace-granting.

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