Plato? Aristotle? Galatians? Morons.
This iconic scene from The Princess Bride is one of my favourites.
Plato? Aristotle? The Galatians? Morons.
This past Sunday, I preached on Galatians 3 where Paul calls the Galatians morons. Yes, our english translations say “fools” but the Greek word “ἀνόητος”, also means “without logic, mindless and dense” so ‘morons’ also works.
What provoked Paul’s response to be so strong?
The church went from trusting in a Person to trusting in their practice for salvation. The false teachers erased the assurance of salvation based on what Christ did, and insisted that it was contingent on what you did. In that scenario, Christ ceased to be the main actor in salvation and the Christian became the main actor.
While Paul’s teaching never minimized Christian obedience, it categorically rejected the idea that salvation was hinging on our obedience. The good news of the gospel is that God didn’t save you by His Spirit and then leave you to reform your own heart by your sweat.
Spiritual Disciplines: for love, not leverage …
The problem in Galatia was that the false teachers attempted to take the Mosaic worship laws of the Old Covenant and enforce them in a New Covenant context. Though today we aren’t trying to bring back Mosaic law, we can create our own “little L laws” or turn gifts like prayer and scripture mediation into “laws”.
Prayer, scripture reading and meditation will nourish your soul – but turning those things into “laws” thinking that by them God will accept you, will shrivel your soul.
Spiritual disciplines are not for leveraging God but for loving Him. Dead religion presents spiritual disciplines as a way of getting things from God whereas the gospel presents them as gifts by which we enjoy God.
Life under the law leads to swaggering and hiding …
Another reason Paul called the Galatians morons (ok fine, ‘fools’) was because the law of God requires 24/7 adherence in order for it to be considered “kept”. While we are no longer under the ceremonial law of the old Covenant, we are still called to God’s loving and moral law in the New Covenant.
Jesus summarized God’s moral law as loving God with our heart, soul, mind, strength and loving our neighbours as much as we love ourselves. None of us are doing that 24/7 either. Therefore, if we choose to live life “under the law” we end up swaggering and hiding, just like the Pharisees did.
Swaggering is the result of simultaneously lowering God’s standards and elevating our obedience so that we can tell ourselves that we’re keeping God’s law. Swaggering leads to hiding and resists confessing. Under the law, we tether our identity to our ability to keep God’s law and being seen as a good person, so confession threatens that self generated identity. Life under the law is exhausting.
Life under grace is liberating and loving …
While failing to keep God’s law meant being under the ‘curse of the law‘, the gospel boldly announces that at the cross, Christ became a curse for us and has kept the law for us. Life under grace is liberating because our salvation isn’t in a constant state of flux based on our imperfect attempts at obedience, it’s assured on the basis of Christ’s perfect obedience.
Why it matters today …
The reason this matters today, is because Paul invites the church to “live by faith”. Consider what what it means to live “by” something. It means that it defines you and everything you do is in relation to that thing.
Whatever we define ourselves by becomes the foundation for our lives. So, for example, if we are defined by things like our relationships, our reputation, our vocation or our success, then we can’t afford to have anything happen to those things, otherwise we lose our sense of identity. It’s a fragile way to live.
To live “by faith” is to have our restless hearts find rest by being defined by a cross: we are children of God. Loved. Accepted.
More and more, we find that His grace and love toward us creates an identity and a sense of security that death itself can’t steal. This profound sense of identity gives us both confidence and humility that reshapes how we approach life, empowering us to engage in relationships, education, vocation and recreation “by faith”.
In other words, we don’t need any of those things to give us our value, acceptance or identity. We engage in them freely, generously, expressively and lovingly because we already have our value, acceptance and identity – in God.
Living life “by faith” is to have our souls set free to enjoy good things without being defining ourselves by them, making them ultimate things.
The gospel is good news that never gets old. We continue the way we began: by grace.