photo by Laura Evans
[T]o [false teachers] we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.
Galatians 2:5 ESV
Dear ICB family,
The tiny twig called Eric grew out of a rather conservative branch of the Christian tree. Pastors Neil and Marcus's exposition through Galatians seems incredibly relevant for my branch. We have seen how the false teachers in Galatia wanted Christians to accept circumcision, to keep the law, and to become Jewish in order to be saved. In other words, these false teachers thought that a change in physical appearance, the adoption of a new set of guiding principles for life, and a mere swap in what one called oneself were what God was ultimately after. How incredibly unimaginative and small-minded.
Paul paints a much grander picture of what God is after. He says that while God's people used to be like children under a guardian, now they've come of age and should therefore act like it (Galatians 3:23–26). They have not merely changed their clothes or their culture; they've "put on Christ" (3:27). God is forming a people comprised of Jews, Greek, slaves, the free, males, and females, and it's living faith in the Son of God that defines this people as opposed to any other man-concocted silliness (3:28). A person's salvation is not a matter of that person adopting new customs; it's about a person becoming an heir of the God of the universe (3:29).
Paul paints a much grander picture of what God is after.
If Christians in Paul's day or ours are satisfied with mere external swaps in behavior or self-identification when it comes to our interactions with the lost, then we've set the bar way, way too low. In fact, it's much worse than that. We've fallen prey to a false gospel. Growing up and out of my particular branch of the Christian church, I got the idea that an essential part of being a Christian was dressing a certain way and not dressing another way. I thought the adoption of my branch's guiding principles for life was essentially the same thing as conversion. I thought that when speaking with the lost, my main goal was to get them to set aside any previous label they had called themselves and adopt the label of my particular denomination, as if Christians by any other name were not true Christians.
Like I said, Galatians seems incredibly relevant all these years later. Do we not do the same thing as the false teachers in Galatia when we reduce conversion to Christ to mere external appearances, behaviors, and self-appellations? How much are we focused on conversion to Christ as opposed to conversion to a particular expression of culture?
The message of the gospel will not allow for such low aims or false teachings. God is creating new men, women, and children, sealed and filled with his Holy Spirit, who have new hearts, new minds, new desires, new loves, and new motivations and who all come together to form a single body united beneath the glorious headship of Christ. We maintain incredible physical and cultural diversity, much like eyes maintain their beautiful distinctions from fingers and calf muscles. The marker of a member of the body of Christ is subjection to Christ, the head, and not petty conformity to man-made culture and rules.
God is creating new men, women, and children, sealed and filled with his Holy Spirit, who have new hearts, new minds, new desires, new loves, and new motivations and who all come together to form a single body united beneath the glorious headship of Christ.
Of course, that's much harder for us. External uniformity is a much more easily manageable task humanly speaking. God's after something so much bigger: hearts that have stopped trusting in everything else in this world and that bank only on the person and work of Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Son of the living God, as their only hope in this life and in the next. Coming to Christ is nothing less than that, and nothing less than that is what God is after. A heart that has experienced such dramatic transformation will change in a million ways, and you can bet that such changes will inevitably become manifest in that person's life. However, don't think you can tie some apples onto the branches of an orange tree and thinking you've changed the very nature of the tree.
Let's not be content with what we as humans are capable of managing, like getting people to adopt certain values or changing their lifestyles or even getting them to start identifying with a specific group (even if it's a Christian group). Let's aim higher and deeper. Let's ask the Holy Spirit to do what only he can do—remove a person's heart that loves and trusts in this world and replace it with a new heart that loves and trusts in Jesus Christ alone.
Longing for something more,
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