Normally when we consider any kingdom one of the great questions relates to the laws that one must abide by to be a part of that kingdom. If you don’t abide by the laws you may very quickly find yourself in jail or worse. I read an article last week that was reported from Russia as the Olympics draw near. They were speaking primarily to the athletes coming from America and other parts of the western world. The message was, we aren’t trying to change your lifestyle or tell you who you can or can’t be, but while you are in this country you will observe our laws or suffer the consequences. The very nature of a kingdom is that it has a right to make its own laws and force the people who come there to abide by the laws.
If we had lived during the first century and began hearing the gospel of Christ preached there would have been many things that absolutely amazed us. At first it was the common thought that Christianity was just a sect of Judaism and was only arguing about some minor points of difference. It’s obvious that many of those who became Christians believed that it was just a little different form of Judaism. Those Jewish believers that followed Paul from place to place trying to convince the new converts among the Gentiles that for them to really be saved they needed to be circumcised and submit to the fundamental laws of the Old Testament, certainly thought that Christianity was a Jewish sect. When Paul wrote the letter to the churches of Galatia it was that background of Jewish believers coming to those cities where he had hazarded his life to preach the gospel and establish the church and now they were convincing these new converts, to add following the Old Testament law to their Christian agenda.
Most likely the Galatian churches to whom Paul wrote were in Iconium, Lystra and Derbe and some of the other cities of that area. Most likely he wrote the letter soon after going to these cities on the first missionary journey with Barnabas and after their visit to Jerusalem for the meeting with the elders and apostles about these teachers who had come from Jerusalem. Galatians may have been the first of Paul’s letters. It likely was written about the same time as I Thessalonians. But Galatians pointed at the whole notion of trying to force Christianity into Judaism and making it a part of the Kingdom of Israel. Focus on these verses out of chapter one in Galatians: “I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!”
Does it sound to you as though Paul was somewhat upset when he wrote this letter? If you could define frustration, I think you might define his mood at this point. What was it that was rubbing him raw? It was the fact they were distorting the entire message of the kingdom of Christ. It was a message of gospel or good news. It was a message of grace for all people. It was what God had promised through Abraham long ago through him, he would bless the nations. Christ had come. He had fulfilled the Law. He was the goal to which that Old Testament law had been driving all along. The law was the tutor to get us to Christ but after Christ has come we are no longer under the tutor (Galatians 3:24-25). Paul was so strong on this point that he pointed out that one who tries to justify himself by the law is fallen from grace and severed from Christ (Galatians 5:4). He told Peter when rebuking him to his face that we are justified in Christ and not by the works of the law, for by the works of the law no one will be justified (Galatians 2:16-17)
I’m certain those Jewish teachers thought that what they were doing was innocent. They didn’t see themselves as pulling people away from Christ or being disloyal to him. They thought they were just adding a small thing to the whole gospel message. Of course one is saved by grace through faith, but you still need to be circumcised and observe the Sabbath and other basic matters of the law to be completely right with God. I can imagine Paul as he thinks about these teachers and what they are doing becoming red in the face and with every stroke of the pen just a little fire was flaming. He pointed out that “In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.” (Galatians 5:6).
All through the years the kingdom of the Lord has been hindered by those who wish to attach it to something else to make it fit their agenda. Some want to attach it to some health kick they are on and try to make their diet one that is ordained in the kingdom. Others try to attach the kingdom to a weight loss program. One of the favorite attachments of our time is to try to make the kingdom of Christ into an investment plan or to a get out of debt program. Any time we come up with an agenda that differs from the goal of reaching lost people with the good news of salvation in Christ we have fallen into the same trap these Jewish teachers had fallen for. They believed in Christ as God’s Son, the Messiah. But they thought that the simple gospel of Christ wasn’t quite enough. Today every imaginable good thing is attached to God’s kingdom.
Yet the kingdom of grace is still the only thing that matters. Think of two powerful statements from Paul as we reach our conclusion. In chapter two verses 20-21 he said, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness come through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.” Notice, the Spirit led Paul to say that binding aspects of the Law on people was to nullify the grace of God. Then notice chapter 3, verses 26-29. “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according t promise.”
The final point is this, be very careful about demanding different side issues to the gospel of Christ. For us to be the kingdom of Grace we must “Stand firm in the liberty of Christ”. Every time a side issue is attached to the kingdom we weigh down the whole ship of faith a little bit more.