Sunday Sermon 21 June 2015 – Paul to the Galatians (3)
Readings: Acts 11:19-26, Acts 13:1-3; Galatians 2:11-21
I once went to two mental asylums in one day. No – I was not looking for a bed or room. I was completing a Masters in Pastoral Counselling and Psychology, and it made sense to visit the places where people were locked away for their safety and ours. There were all kinds of people who thought they were prime ministers or famous heroes – one lady claimed to be Margaret Thatcher.
Which reminds me of the story of Margaret Thatcher visiting a retirement home – and introducing herself as the British Prime Minister. Thatcher spoke to one of the inmates and asked him: “do you know who I am?” The patient replied: “No, dear, but I should ask the nurse if I were you. She usually knows.”
I don’t think any of us really would know what it must be like to learn again from scratch who you are – say after an accident where you lose your memory. Amnesia is the word.
These lines from Paul’s letter to the Galatians are actually quite difficult to understand – precisely because they involve losing one identity and gaining another.
Refugees have to work on that don’t they – and oh my there are a lot of them trying to get to new countries at the moment. (Just by the way, Saturday was international refugees’ day – and the numbers are higher than they have ever been.) Emigrants also have to find a new identity. This many of us know.
Paul’s conflict in this letter is not just about other missionaries with a different point of view. Or a different interpretation of the gospel. It’s about fundamental Christian identity – who you are in the Messiah Jesus.
Paul’s conflict with Peter is over the same issue – and his conflict with the churches in Galatia.
Peter had had a vision – if you remember – a sheet coming down from heaven loaded with forbidden un-kosher food. He was convinced about the need to break out of that Jewish mould. He associated with gentiles and ate with them.
But here he changes his tune – and refuses to eat with non-Jews.
In short, Paul accused Peter of hypocrisy. The word means wearing a mask. And much to Paul’s horror, his partner Barnabus, known as the son of encouragement, went along with this. For some reason they were concerned about what the Jewish contingency would think about eating with non-Jews.
The point is – the church in Antioch we read about in Acts 11 and 13 – where Paul and Barnabus were sent out from – was a multicultural church, and they certainly weren’t all Jewish. This was where the disciples were first called Christians (Acts 11:26). The moment you identify with this label – and call yourself a Christian – your identity shifts from being a Torah-keeping Jew or a “Gentile sinner” excluded from God’s family – into the family of the New Covenant – your identity is in the Messiah Jesus.
We used to sing a song years back about this shift. “It’s no longer I that liveth – but Christ that liveth in me.” (Galatians 2:20 from the KJV).
I’m not sure that I understood back then. The key verse is Galatians 2:20, which lines up exactly with Paul’s teaching on baptism in Romans 6.
Gal 2:20 – I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. He goes on to say: Gal 2:21- I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”
If we have died to our old selves, then our new identity is “in Christ”. In fact that phrase “in Christ” is key to all of this. Listen to Paul elsewhere:
- Rom 8:1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus
- Rom 16:7 Greet Andronicus and Junias, my relatives who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.
- 1Co 1:30 It is because of him (God) that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.
And probably my favourite:
- 2Co 5:17 – Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!
Those who are “in Christ” – Christians – are part of a new fellowship, a new covenant and a new family.
Tom Wright reminds us that the identity marker for Jews was circumcision. The identity marker for Christians is faith. He continues:
And if we are ‘in’ the crucified Jesus, that means that our previous identities are irrelevant. They are to be forgotten. We are no longer defined by possession of the law, or by its detailed requirements that set Jew over against Gentile. ‘I died to the law, that I might live to God.’ We must now learn who we are in a whole new way. Who then are we? We are the Messiah’s people, with his life now at work in us. And, since the central thing about him is his loving faithfulness, the central thing about us, the only thing in fact that defines us, is our own loving faithfulness, the glad response of faith to the God who has sent his son to die for us. This is the very heart of Christian identity. Wright, Tom (2002-03-22). Paul for Everyone: Galatians and Thessalonians (New Testament for Everyone) (p. 26). SPCK. Kindle Edition.
And one of the sure signs of being together in this New Covenant is to eat together. Tom Wright put it this way: To have separate tables within the church is to spurn the generous love of the Messiah. One of the marks of Jesus’ public career was open table-fellowship. God intends it to be a mark of Jesus’ people from that day to this. Wright, Tom (p. 27).
Communion is one of the special meals with profound significance. Every meal together is an intimate sharing amongst those who are family in Christ. And like the church in Antioch – our background is irrelevant!
It’s a new identity that comes with being rescued from the evil age which we spoke about two weeks back: Gal 1:3 “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, Gal 1:4 who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age …” reaches a climax in Galatians 2:20 – “And the life I do still live in the flesh, I live within the faithfulness of the son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Kingdom New Testament).
Posted on June 23, 2015, in Sunday Morning Sermons and tagged faith, faithfulness, Galatians, grace, hypocricy, identity, in Christ, Messiah Jesus, Paul, righteousness. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.