Second Sunday after Pentecost: Galatians 1:1-12
Peace be with you!
I begin my week by making my to-do list on Sunday evenings. I write down my appointments and meetings in brown. Then I write down what I need or would like to accomplish each day of the week—items in blue are household tasks; items in green are website and church related, items in purple are reminders to send cards to individuals, and so on. Some weeks my calendar looks messier than others. Without my to-do list, I am lost and confused, and I find myself getting distracted by browsing Facebook. My to-do list gives me direction and helps me stay on track, plus I get a sense of accomplishment when I check off items in red.
Reflection Questions: How do you get yourself organized for the day or the week ahead? Do you have to-do lists? Do you set alarms for reminders on your phone or tablet?
In Galatia, Paul had shared the good news of the freedom of forgiveness in Jesus Christ and founded a church there. He left the Galatians believing that Jesus welcomes them into a relationship with God the Father. The Galatians knew they could not earn their way into the kingdom of God through their good works; they had to believe Jesus Christ died on the cross for the forgiveness of their sins and that faith was their ticket into the kingdom of God—nothing more and nothing less.
Reports of the activities of the Galatians had been shared with Paul and what he hears does not make him very happy. The Galatians have fallen prey trap to false teachers who have announced they need to be circumcised and do good works in order to earn their way into the kingdom of God. Like the Galatians, we too become trapped by the world’s requirements. When students start a new degree program, they are given a checklist of requirements, and upon completion they are given a diploma, which signifies they are ready to work in the field. Companies set standards for their employees’ daily workload and opportunities for advancement. People go to the gym with goals in mind and are given a workout program to do two or three days a week. The church even has checklists for individuals who wish to be deacons or priests. There is an order in which things need to be done and people who confirm you are ready for the next step. Even at home, we have our own checklists and standards to live by. No wonder we are conditioned to work toward something—checking off requirements, working towards a goal, and meeting standards. We would like it if God would just say what his requirements are for us to be his children.
Reflection Questions: How do you seek approval from the world? Do you get overwhelmed? Do you pace yourself?
However, God does not have a long checklist of requirements for us to meet. Paul is jumping up and down saying, “NO! You cannot earn your way into the kingdom of God on your own accord. Jesus Christ came into the world, walked with us, died on the cross, rose again, and ascended into heaven so that we may come into a relationship with God the Father and enter the kingdom of God” (see Galatians 1:6-12). Over the next six weeks, we will see Paul direct the Galatians (and us) away from earthly solutions and point them and us toward God’s grace, love, and forgiveness.
Paul is not looking for a pat on the back or a “good job, bro.” Paul is not looking for approval from his call committee or synod or employer to begin ministries in the world. Jesus Christ commissioned Paul through a vision on the road to Damascus (Galatians 1:12). If he wanted approval from his earthly counterparts, Paul would have stayed doing his job for the Jewish synagogue as a Pharisee (Galatians 1:10). But that would have been the easy way out. Paul chose the path to salvation.
Life would be easier if it came with a checklist. For the Galatians, the false teachers were giving them a checklist to complete in order to enter the kingdom of God: circumcise all males, follow the Ten Commandments, and observe the Jewish festivals. However, Paul will argue this checklist only gains you earthly approval—not God’s approval. Maybe in Old Testament times this checklist was important, but Jesus Christ changed all of that. The Galatians (and we) are living in a new age where faith in Jesus Christ gives us passage into the kingdom of God.
Reflection Questions: How do you seek approval from God? Is it ever enough?
Paul has given the Galatians the way to get into the kingdom of God: admit you are sinner who needs forgiveness and believe in Jesus Christ as your Savior. But it seems too easy for the Galatians and for us. We want to earn our own way into heaven. Paul jumps up and down and says, “No, listen up people; you cannot earn your own way into heaven; you need Jesus Christ who came into the world, walked with us, died on the cross, rose again, and ascended into heaven to offer us God’s love, grace, and forgiveness, so we may come into a relationship with God the Father and enter the kingdom of God” (see Galatians 1:6-12). Paul is begging the Galatians not to get wrapped in some unnecessary checklist to meet the requirements to enter heaven. All you need is faith in Jesus Christ as your Savior.
Reflection Questions: What does it mean to you that Jesus died for your sins? How does it feel that your faith is enough for you to enter the kingdom of God?
Thanks be to God!
Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for giving Paul the vision to spread the good news across the Roman Empire. Help us to resist the temptation to complete checklists in order to try to earn our way into heaven. Direct us instead to have faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior. Remind us that you sent Jesus into the world to die for our sins and to give us eternal life. Thank you for Paul’s commitment to the good news. Amen