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Sunday, September 9, 2018

Theology and Thought

14th Sunday after Trinity, 2018
Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Paul’s Anglican Church

Galatians 3:1-2 “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?  2 This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?”

Thus begins the third chapter of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, from which our Epistle selection is taken. It is a supreme example of Pauline theology, because it introduces one of the greatest dichotomies in Christian theology: law vs. promise.  Taking a broader view, it has implications for every single world religion, and it has implications for man’s relationship to his deity. Based on this dichotomy, it actually affects how one thinking as well.

These statements are borne out by this brief selection from Galatians. Recall that this particular Epistle was borne out of the caldron of theological disagreement, or more positively said, the arena of theological discussion. The Galatians had been set upon by Paul’s old foes, the Judaizers. In order to be good Christians, these men demanded that the early Christians follow the Law of Moses, including circumcision.  They waited until St. Paul had departed for other areas of ministry before descending on the newly-formed flocks of Christians.  They brought “another Gospel” to which some of the Galatians gave an ear, much to the distress of their founding Apostle, Paul.
That is why he asked the incredulous question, (Galatians 3:1) “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?”
Paul is simply stunned that they should cast away his teachings of promise and grace, to become entangled in the tedious keeping of a multitude of commandments. Remember, that the Judaizers wanted the early Christians to embrace both the Christian Way and the Mosaic law.

To Paul, this is simply ludicrous.  Thus, he asked them if they received the Holy Spirit by the works of Law or by the hearing of faith?  The question becomes, do we receive salvation from Sinai (the Law), or Pentecost (the coming of the Holy Ghost)?  Or, is God’s relationship to man based on promise, or on law?

The answer is key to our whole belief system, and affects not only the way we practice our religion, but how we think as well. Let’s examine this…. Under a works system, or one based on Law, one must always be concerned about “doing” something. That is, it is the concrete performance of an action, or the avoidance of an action that determines righteousness.   This is not always bad; in fact, it can be a good and desirable way of life, especially when one considers the riotous and anarchic alternative: no law.  Yet, Law is sterile. It produces legalistic righteousness and a “by-the-book” mentality, but if fails to produce a change in the human heart. Yes, it can create righteous people, but they tend to be joyless and cold.  Contrast the cold gruel of an Ebenezer Scrooge, who certainly followed the rules of good business, with the warm, happy, agape dinners of the early Christians.  Which is more appealing? Taking a broader view, consider the broader implications for one’s religion.  If one is simply concerned with doing, one never gets around to growing. One becomes concerned with doing a code, as opposed to living a life. 

Now consider the implications of promise, as opposed to law. God’s whole relationship to man is based on promise. It began with Genesis 3, where God tells the serpent that Eve’s seed will bruise (smash) his head, while he will bruise his heel.
This is called the proto-Gospel, where Christ, born of woman, is foretold to vanquish the ultimate power of evil, death.  Although it came with the terrible price of the Crucifixion, it did come, as the Satanic powers tried to silence Jesus.  They failed, as evil ultimately will fail, through the power and promise of God in Christ. 

The promise of God to man continued in the form of a covenant with Abraham, referenced in today’s Epistle. The promise was made to Abraham like this: (Galatians 3:8-9): “And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed.  9 So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.”

All nations have indeed been blessed through Abraham, by the coming of our Lord and
Saviour Jesus Christ.  Where then, is the Law?  Recall that Christ said in Matthew 5:17:  Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.”

Jesus is the living embodiment of all the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah.  He fulfilled the Law by bringing the complete fulfillment of what the Law was supposed to do: bring love on the earth. Recall those wonderful words from the prologue of the St. John’s Gospel: (John 1:16-17”: And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace. For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.”   

No truer words were even spoken. Grace, truth, and promise came by Christ.  He gave us the new law of Love, by which we are to be transformed, and by which we are to transform the world. Because of Christ, we relate to our deity (the Triune God) through faith and grace, not through slavish obedience to a code.  We Christians have liberty in Christ, bound only by the law of Love.

Let us consider how our theology affects our thinking.  For example, if one is bound by the love of Love, one will strive to do two things: love God with all of one’s mind, heart, and strength; and love one’s neighbor as oneself. All of one’s actions, thoughts, and motives will be guided by these two bases.

Thus, one will seek to return God’s Love with thanksgiving, praise, and worship.  If fact, the more loves God, the more one will be drawn to adoration and worship, like the moth that must approach the light even though it may singe its wings.  In our case, the closer we get to the love of God, the better we will be.

On the other hand, consider those who are so driven by a code that they must embrace acts of violence and destruction to defend it. Anything that does not agree with their code must be destroyed; it cannot be countenanced. The infidel must be converted or be destroyed. This is negative theology at its worst, but it is the logical outcome of a works-driven, or law-defined salvation system.

In the end, it proves to be unworkable.  Even if one comes close to obeying every aspect of a system of law, one becomes self-righteous and prideful. After all, it is my actions that determine my salvation, or my blessedness, one will think.

What folly this is!  No one can be righteous by law, because no one can keep the law. No one is one-hundred percent consistent. Second, when one fails to keep law in every aspect, this breeds hypocrisy. Thus, we have the scenario of outer righteousness for all of the world to see, while the inner man is base and unredeemed.  The outer man shines with all the splendor of compliance, while the inner man seethes with hatred, lust, anger, pride, and vainglory.  This hypocrisy, combined with righteous anger against those who believe differently, has the negative outcomes of terrorism and holy war.

Thus, beloved, we submit to you that righteousness and joy do not come from adherence to a code, but from a change in the heart.  Only where the promises of love, joy, and grace abide can there be true peace. Only where we know and feel the loving Presence of our God through faith and relationship can true spiritual growth occur.  When we know that we are loved without limit, in a deep and profound way that escapes our comprehension, we give love back to the World, despite its wickedness.

Then, we can begin to understand that we are truly the children of promise.

Galatians 3:6 : “ Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”

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