Synopsis: Using the law for the wrong purpose is hazardous to our spiritual health because it nullifies the gospel. Just as the “Judaizers” of Paul’s day required people to follow Torah law before coming to Christ, many Christians undermine both faith and grace by requiring works of those who wish to come to Christ.
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Scripture reading: Galatians 3: 23-29.
How many of you have ever used something for a purpose other than for that which it was intended? Like using a fork to clean your teeth instead of a toothpick? Or using a knife to open a can instead of a can opener? And how many of you got hurt as a result?
Often, using things for other than their intended purpose can be hazardous to our health. There is a word for using things in ways they were not intended to be used. The word is “abuse.” In our scripture reading for today, Paul discusses the abuse of the law, and how it is hazardous to our spiritual health.
The term “Judaizers” refers to the Jewish Christians who taught that salvation was a mixture of grace through the work of Jesus Christ and human effort through obeying Torah. They believed Gentiles had to become Jewish like them before they could come to Christ. Paul first deals with this false doctrine in Acts chapter 15 when some Judaizers opposed him and Barnabas at the Jerusalem Council, and he strongly condemns it in his letter to the Galatians.
In Galatians 2:21, Paul writes, “I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification were through the law, then Christ died to no purpose.” In a nutshell, Paul is stating that anyone who claims salvation isn’t by faith alone is declaring the Lord’s work pointless and God’s grace invalid.
This reminds me of a sad story Tabatha told me about something that happened in her childhood. She gave her old bike to a good friend as a gift. When Tabatha’s mother found out about it, she marched over to her friend’s house and demanded payment for the bike. This alienated her friend, destroyed their friendship, and broke Tabatha’s heart.
I can imagine that is how God feels.
Let’s take a look at the context around our passage. In the first half of chapter 3, Paul explains to the Galatians that Mosaic law could not pronounce a blessing, only a curse, because the law must be followed perfectly, which is something we humans can’t do.
He reminds them that Abraham was justified (or declared righteous) on the basis of his faith, not his works, and it was because of his righteousness that God made a covenant with him recorded in Genesis 12:1-3. In that covenant, God promised Abraham a land, many descendants, and that the entire world would be blessed through him.
Paul reminds his readers that the Mosaic covenant was given through Moses, but God gave the Abrahamic Covenant directly to Abraham 430 years earlier. Therefore, Mosaic law did not replace God’s covenant with Abraham. So then, what was the purpose of Mosaic Law? Why did God add this covenant to his original covenant with Abraham?
And that takes us to our scripture reading for today. Paul explains that we were confined under the law. It kept us under restraint. It was our custodian until Christ came that we may be justified by faith. A custodian is a guardian or protector, but how can it be when Paul also says it’s a curse?
Well, think about how we all feel about rules – especially while growing up. We curse them, but our parents put them in place to guide and protect us. The rules confined us for our own good until we were wise enough to follow them willingly. Until then, we didn’t follow them perfectly, did we? No, we probably tested those rules quite a bit.
I’m reminded of an event that took place while the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness. In Numbers chapter 21, we read that the Israelites were being bitten by snakes. They believed God sent the snakes because they spoke out against Him and Moses saying, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”
Many Israelites were dying from the snake bites, so God told Moses to create a bronze snake so that anyone who is bitten could look at it and live. Imagine if you were dying from a snake bite, and someone tells you to look at a bronze snake on a pole to be healed. You might think it’s a cruel joke. Some of the Israelites might have thought that too, but to look at it was an act of faith, not works.
Israelites who were bitten by a snake knew they were bitten. They also knew they were dying, so they actively sought healing because they didn’t want to die. That’s how it is when we know there’s something physically wrong with us. We have ways of knowing, such as symptoms and medical technology like x-rays and scans. Once our illness is confirmed, we then seek healing.
When someone is suffering from mental illness, it’s more difficult to identify. There aren’t any physical symptoms or medical technologies to make it obvious. A person is diagnosed with mental illness when their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are out of the range of “normal.” But what is “normal?” We have a book called the “The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” to define what’s “normal.”
When someone is spiritually ill, how can that be identified – especially when most people are spiritually ill – more or less? When most people are walking around spiritually ill, and very few are spiritually healthy, the ill ones point at the healthy ones and say, “Something’s wrong with them.”
Many people have been bitten and poisoned by the “snake,” the Mind of Me, but if they don’t know it, they won’t seek healing. If we don’t think we need something, we won’t accept it – even if it’s free. If you say to me, “Here’s a free toaster oven.” I’d say, “No thanks, I don’t need one, but maybe someone else could use it.”
So … Mosaic law is like “The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Spiritual Disorders.” It reveals what we can’t do when we’ve been bitten by the snake, and its poison is causing spiritual illness within us. This way, we can be made aware of our need for healing and then actively seek it out.
The less we understand about a form of illness, the more likely we are to judge and condemn those who suffer from it. We understand the body the most, so we have a lot of compassion for people who have illnesses like cancer. We understand the mind much less, so there has been a lot of stigma around mental illness, but thankfully, that is changing.
We understand the least about the spirit, so we judge and condemn people. But, judging and condemning others is just another symptom of a spiritual disorder. In Matthew 7, the Lord said, “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For the judgment you give will be the judgment you get, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.”
If we’re measuring others’ righteousness using the law, then we must also be measuring our own. God did not give us the law for that purpose. We don’t expect those suffering from mental illness to read the manual, identify their abnormal thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and then say, “OK – I’ll stop doing those things.” We know they can’t do that because they are suffering from mental illness.
That’s the point of the book! We understand that the manual is a diagnostic tool, not the cure. The same is true of Mosaic law, but all those who require works for salvation are trying to make the law the cure.
The cure for spiritual illness was accomplished through God’s own Son being lifted up on the cross so that all who would look upon Him in FAITH would be healed. This is how God made good on his third promise to Abraham – that all the world would be blessed through him.
This is the “new covenant” that the prophet Jeremiah foretells in chapter 31: 33-34 where we read, “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days [of Moses], says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each man teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
Jesus, at the last supper, suggested that his work fulfilled God’s promise of a new covenant. In Luke 20:20, we read, “And likewise [he took] the cup after supper, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” Through Jesus – both a son of Abraham and the Son of God – the entire world has been healed.
The law is no longer needed once we have been spiritually healed by looking to the Lord with faith. Once we know who we are, we no longer need the custodian of the law. We no longer need it because through the Holy Spirit, the law is within us, written on our hearts, and soon, my friends, we will live in a world where all shall know the Lord, from the least to the greatest.
How can we apply Paul’s message to the Galatians today? Well, we must acknowledge that free means free. We are saved by faith in Christ alone through God’s grace. Salvation is simply having faith in the Truth that God has only one child whom He loves dearly. That Child is the Christ, and we are all part of Him. There is nothing we can do to change that.
God can’t have any favorites because he has only one child. Those who believe that God loves them more than another clearly don’t know who they are.
Some modern Christian churches explicitly deny the idea of salvation by faith alone. The Hebrew Roots Movement holds beliefs that are identical to those of the Judaizers of Paul’s day, and some churches believe certain sacraments, such as baptism, are required for salvation. Other churches implicitly deny the idea of salvation by faith alone by requiring adherents to follow their rules and traditions.
Why do people nullify the gospel? Because there is something within us that doesn’t know the meaning of free. It believes that everything must be earned, particularly our worth and the right to live. It doesn’t like freedom either. It likes control. And it really hates equality because it loves superiority.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a direct assault on the Mind of Me, so it created a false gospel. Simply by adding works, it effectively undermines faith. It discourages people from discovering their True Nature by keeping them too busy following rules and traditions that don’t change their hearts.
It also effectively undermines grace, making salvation no longer so easy because it’s no longer free. The Mind of Me can now control people because it gets to decide what is required to earn salvation. It can choose whatever beliefs and deeds it favors, particularly those that manipulate people into giving it what it wants. To sell its requirements, it promotes and practices them in public, but what it does in private is a different story.
Jesus had a serious problem with people who abused Mosaic Law. He called them “hypocrites.” In Matthew chapter 23:4, Jesus says, “They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger.” And in verse 23, “… Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you shut the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither enter yourselves, nor allow those who would enter to go in.”
This abuse has certainly affected the Christian church. Richard Rohr, an American Franciscan priest and writer on spirituality, summed it up quite nicely saying, “We worshipped Jesus instead of following him on his same path. We made Jesus into a mere religion instead of a journey toward unison with God and everything else. This shift made us into a religion of ‘belonging and believing’ instead of a religion of transformation.”
Thanks be to God that we know all about the Mind of Me, so we don’t fall for its tricks. Free means free. That is what we need to communicate to people. Because like Tabatha’s friend, many of God’s own children have been alienated from Him because others have demanded payment for His Gift.
God wants nothing from us because God needs nothing from us. I mean, what could Almighty God, who created the heavens and the earth, who is quite literally All There Is, possibly need from us? God wants nothing from us, but he does want something for us. He wants for us to have an abundant life free from suffering, and to have that, all WE need is FAITH in who we are.
It is not until we can fully accept who we are that we can accept salvation as a gift given freely by our loving Father. He gave us this gift not to make us feel obligated but so that we can enjoy the peace, love, and joy that is our inheritance.
Isn’t our Heavenly Father wonderful? What can we do in response to such magnanimous love? We can say, “Thank you, Father!” We can be grateful, but God doesn’t need gratitude from us. Gratitude is another thing for us. Faith opens the door of our heart to receive God’s greatest gift, and gratitude keeps that door open so that we can receive more gifts. Our Heavenly Father is a doting father; it is His greatest joy to shower us with gifts.
We can also love God in return. We can love God where God can be found – within that Spark you see glowing out of the eyes of others. In the flesh, there are differences, certainly. We, however, are able to acknowledge and respect differences without attaching them to worthiness before Our God because we know that when it comes to our essential nature, we are One in Christ.
So let us be God’s ambassadors, bringing all those estranged from Him back into a relationship with Him. Let us tell everyone the truth that they are beloved of God no matter who they are or what they have done and that they need only to look to the Christ in faith to be healed. No payment required.
In this way, we give God the Father’s Day gift he’s always wanted.
Let’s pray together: Lord, we are grateful to you for teaching us the proper use of the law. Give us the courage to lead others to You, to unity with the Father and All That Is, and to love them as you love us. AMEN.
Deffinbaugh, Bob. “9. The Contribution of the Mosaic Covenant (Galatians 3:19-29).” Bible.org, 28 Jun 2004, bible.org/seriespage/9-contribution-mosaic-covenant-galatians-319-29.
“What is the Abrahamic Covenant?” gotquestions.org, www.gotquestions.org/Abrahamic-covenant.html
“Who were the Judaizers?” gotquestions.org, www.gotquestions.org/Judaizers.html