There are all kinds of things going on in our world that are absolutely astonishing. Many of the things said by the different political candidates astonish me. You have to wonder where their advisors were when they came up with some of the things that are said. But I want to notice a occasion when Paul was astonished. In Galatians 1:6 “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel.”
It hadn’t been long ago that Paul and Barnabas had traveled to the area of Galatia preaching Jesus to the people. Gentiles who had no knowledge of God had turned from the idolatrous way of life they had lived to give their lives to Jesus who had given himself on the cross to die so their sins and ours could be forgiven. He came, Paul said, to rescue us from this present evil world. The message they had heard was easily described as “The Gospel or good news.” It was a means of being saved from all sins through the blood of Jesus as one believed in Jesus as God’s son and committed their lives to him. But, after Paul and Barnabas left the area and travelled back to Antioch the news came that teachers had come to the area of Galatia telling these new Christians that if they really wanted to be pleasing to God it wasn’t enough just to believe in Jesus and be committed to him, they also needed to obey the law and be circumcised. In essence the message to them was that to be really right with God they needed to become Jews also.
Here’s the thing about all of that. It isn’t just something that happened 2,000 years ago and never has happened again. The problem is that it goes on all the time, that those who follow Christ are too often being told that it just isn’t enough to follow Christ through faith and live a life of freedom in him. Instead there are always things that someone comes us that we must do beyond what the gospel of Christ teaches if we really want to be right with God. Their deal was being circumcised, obeying the different food laws of the Old Testament and observing the different days that were part of that law. The picture that had been painted to them was that they had made a start but to go all the way for God they had to take these extra steps. Paul’s reaction as the apostle of Christ who had received his message of gospel directly from Jesus by revelation, was that your following these extra rules that are being put upon you, are departing from Jesus Christ. He called you by his grace and now you are trying to be justified by law. It just blew his mind that anyone would turn from the freedom in Christ to take on such regulations and going back under the law that had as it’s primary purpose to bring us to Christ and after Christ has come we are no longer under that law. By the law no one can be justified in Christ.
Now please understand, it isn’t just that one can’t be saved by keeping those particular laws. If there had been a law by which one could be saved there would have been no reason for Jesus to come into the world and take upon himself human flesh, to go through the same temptations we go through and then to die the cruel death on the cross for us to be saved. No such law existed then nor does one exist now or will there ever be such a law. Salvation is only possible through the grace of a loving and merciful God who longed for our salvation so much he was willing to pay the price for our redemption on the cross.
How serious is it for people to just add on a few regulations that a person must follow that really isn’t part of the gospel of Christ? So serious that Paul would say that if one preached or received any gospel besides the one he preached to them let them be accursed. It meant that one left Christ behind and that they fell from grace according to chapter 5:1-4. Too often we aren’t satisfied with helping a person or group of people become Christians. We want them to be “American Christians.” Or it may be that we want them to be Christians of the same race or background as us. Too often we take the cultural things that have been true of us where we live and try to bind them on other cultures so that they look like us more than they look like Jesus. Paul pleaded with these Galatian Christians to stand in freedom and not allow others to press upon them rules that God hadn’t given. John would later write, “Whoever goes on and does not abide in the teachings of Christ, does not have God. He that abides in the teachings of Christ has both the Father and the Son.” (2 John 9)
Freedom, even in Christ, is difficult to live with. You’ve heard the saying that “good fences make for good neighbors.” In growing up who in the world would have thought about putting a fence around their yard to keep the neighborhood children from coming into their yard. We ran and played without thought of whose house or whose property it might be. We had freedom. But now we want fences, boundaries, signs and “keep off the grass.” Even spiritually it is tough to simply allow people the freedom in Christ to through faith follow Him and grow more like him all the time. We want to put up fences to keep out all who disagree with us on the slightest things. In doing such we astonish the Lord and we depart from Jesus. God help us!