“When men and women get their hands on religion, one of the first things they often do is turn it into an instrument for controlling others, ether putting or keeping them ‘in their place.’ The history of such religious manipulation and coercion is long and tedious. It is little wonder that people who have only known religion on such terms experience release or escape from it as freedom. The problem is that the freedom turns out to be short-lived.” –Eugene Peterson, Introduction of Galatians, The Message
Paul of Tarsus was doing his diligent best to add yet another chapter to this dreary history when he was converted by Jesus to something radically and entirely different—a free life in God. Through Jesus, Paul learned that God was not an impersonal force to be used to make people behave in certain prescribed ways, but a personal Savior who set us free to live a free life. God did not coerce us from without, but set us free from within.
It was a glorious experience, and Paul set off telling others, introducing and inviting everyone he met into this free life. In his early travels he founded a series of churches in the Roman province of Galatia. A few years later Paul learned that religious leaders of the old school had come in to those churches, called his views and authority into question, and were reintroducing the old ways, herding all these freedom-loving Christians back into the corral of religious rules and regulations.
Paul was, of course furious. He was furious with the old guard for coming in with their strong-arm religious tactics and intimidating the Christians into giving up their free life in Jesus. But he was also furious with the Christians for caving in to the intimidation.
His letter to the Galatian churches helps them, and us, recover the original freedom. He also gives direction in the nature of God’s gift of freedom—most necessary guidance, for freedom is a delicate and subtle gift, easily perverted and often squandered.
Let’s begin this journey while prayerfully and carefully examining our own motives. Are we living a life bound by religious tradition or are we freely abiding in a beautiful relationship with our Savior and Lord. Relationships that are forever loving and abiding are hard to keep quiet about, aren’t they?
Galatians 1, The Message
1-5 I, Paul, and my companions in faith here, send greetings to the Galatian churches. My authority for writing to you does not come from any popular vote of the people, nor does it come through the appointment of some human higher-up. It comes directly from Jesus the Messiah and God the Father, who raised him from the dead. I’m God-commissioned. So I greet you with the great words, grace and peace! We know the meaning of those words because Jesus Christ rescued us from this evil world we’re in by offering himself as a sacrifice for our sins. God’s plan is that we all experience that rescue. Glory to God forever! Oh, yes!
6-9 I can’t believe how you waver—how easily you have turned traitor to him who called you by the grace of Christ by embracing an alternative message! It is not a minor variation, you know; it is completely other, an alien message, a no-message, a lie about God. Those who are provoking this agitation among you are turning the Message of Christ on its head. Let me be blunt: If one of us—even if an angel from heaven!—were to preach something other than what we preached originally, let him be cursed. I said it once; I’ll say it again: If anyone, regardless of reputation or credentials, preaches something other than what you received originally, let him be cursed.
10-12 Do you think I speak this strongly in order to manipulate crowds? Or court favor with God? Or get popular applause? If my goal was popularity, I wouldn’t bother being Christ’s slave. Know this—I am most emphatic here, friends—this great Message I delivered to you is not mere human optimism. I didn’t receive it through the traditions, and I wasn’t taught it in some school. I got it straight from God, received the Message directly from Jesus Christ.
13-16 I’m sure that you’ve heard the story of my earlier life when I lived in the Jewish way. In those days I went all out in persecuting God’s church. I was systematically destroying it. I was so enthusiastic about the traditions of my ancestors that I advanced head and shoulders above my peers in my career. Even then God had his eye on me. Why, when I was still in my mother’s womb he chose and called me out of sheer generosity! Now he has intervened and revealed his Son to me so that I might joyfully tell non-Jews about him.
16-20 Immediately after my calling—without consulting anyone around me and without going up to Jerusalem to confer with those who were apostles long before I was—I got away to Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus, but it was three years before I went up to Jerusalem to compare stories with Peter. I was there only fifteen days—but what days they were! Except for our Master’s brother James, I saw no other apostles. (I’m telling you the absolute truth in this.)
21-24 Then I began my ministry in the regions of Syria and Cilicia. After all that time and activity I was still unknown by face among the Christian churches in Judea. There was only this report: “That man who once persecuted us is now preaching the very message he used to try to destroy.” Their response was to recognize and worship God because of me!
Paul was and then God stepped and through His Son, Jesus Christ, set Paul free!
What is my testimony? What is your testimony about the day Jesus came in and changed everything?
I was. But then God…
I cannot speak enough about what you did to change my life from rules to relationship with you that is holy, loving, gentle, kind, compassionate. You show me grace and mercy daily and for all this I am so grateful. I have no desire to live without you. I love you with all my heart, mind and soul. It is your voice I want to hear above all other voices in this world, especially the voice that wants to draw me away. Thank you, Lord for your abiding forever love, continued guidance, always renewing and refreshing my spirit each day.
In Jesus Name, For Your Glory, Amen