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Sunday
Jun112017

Gospel-Saturated Living

St. Paul by El Greco (c.1612), oil on canvas, Museo del Greco, Toledo, Spain.

By Keith Ganzer

The following is from a sermon on Galatians 1:1-5 given at Christ the King Anglican Church, Toronto on Feb. 19, 2017 by its rector, the Rev. Keith Ganzer.

IF YOU HAVE a heartbeat, you cannot read Galatians and assign it to the category of “interesting religious reflection.” Its author, St Paul, wants transformation – gospel-saturated, gospel-oriented, gospel-directed living. “I have been crucified with Christ,” he says in chapter two. “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

This is why I’m a pastor and why we’re going to study Galatians together: I want you to live this way. I want to see you stand firm in the freedom of Christ – to live by the Spirit, keeping in step with the Spirit, not gratifying the desires of the flesh (Paul lists some of them in chapter five).

Why does that matter? It matters, Paul says, because “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” And because Paul says that “in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.”

Galatians is fundamentally about gospel-rooted living. Yes, we’ll deal with concepts of works, and the law, and grace, and faith, and righteousness and justification – but God help us if we read what this apostle wrote as though he were merely trying to clarify terms so we could better hone our theological categories. Paul wants the lives of the Galatians to change because they grasp the gospel – his gospel, because his is Christ’s gospel, and lately they’ve been hearing a different one.

We have verses one to five before us: it’s the letter opening – but it’s not just a formality for Paul. In these five verses, Paul asserts his apostolic authority and then offers a summary of his apostolic gospel. The two are connected, because Paul presents the authority for the message he’s been sent to give them – and then he gives it.

In verse one Paul reminds the Galatians that his apostleship is not the kind that comes “from men nor through man” – he’s not an apostle by any human authority – “but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead.” Notice the order: “through Jesus Christ” first – and no wonder. This is Saul of Tarsus, the man who hated Jesus called the Messiah and who persecuted those who followed him. It was Jesus Christ himself – the risen Lord! – who met Saul on the Damascus road. In 1 Corinthians 1:9, Paul writes: “Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?”

As one commentator puts it, “everything Paul knew and understood about God and Jewish messianic expectations had been overturned and had to be rethought.” Turns out the crucifixion was something God himself had planned and been a part of. And how did Paul know that? Because God had “raised him from the dead”! The resurrection, for all else it means, is the stamp of divine approval on the cross. It was the risen Christ who met Paul and turned him from an enemy into his apostle.

What does this mean for us? Well, it means that when we read Galatians we read the words of an authoritative messenger of Jesus, the crucified Messiah, raised by God the Father. In other words, we’re reading the message of God; an apostle speaks with authority the message of the one who sent him! When you attend to the words of this book, written by Paul, you encounter the message of the Lord himself. So best we pay attention.

And here’s the heart of it – the apostolic gospel – in verses 3 to 5. The argument works this way: it’s because of verse four that Paul begins where he does in verse three and ends where he does in verse five. Verse four says Jesus “gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father.” It’s because of that marvelous truth that Paul can start in verse 3 by saying “grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” and then finish by saying, “to [God] be the glory forever and ever.”

Paul can only extend the hope of grace that results in peace because of what Jesus did, right? Because what’s grace? It’s something given out of a disposition to help someone – it’s showing favour. And since we’re talking about God here, what is the high point of his favour? Obviously, it’s God giving himself to his people in Christ. It’s the cross. It’s God’s forgiveness of his sinful people, his “steadfast love.” It’s Exodus 34:6-7 finally, fully realized: “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness… forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.” It’s grace. It’s what the Galatians had somehow lost sight of. Look ahead at verse 6: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel.”

On the other side, Paul’s rehearsal of the gospel in verse four leads him to the doxology in verse five. It’s God’s eternal will, Paul has just said, that lies behind the self-giving of Christ on behalf of our sins, the purpose of which was to deliver us from the present evil age, with all the implications of how we live within it.

The present evil age is an evil age because sin has a grip on our lives and on our society. The evil one is involved in promoting all of that. But for those who trust Christ, a deliverance has taken place! And that deliverance is accomplished only as we find forgiveness at the cross. When we do, of course, it changes us; we bear witness with our lives that we belong to another age. For as Paul will make abundantly clear later in his letter, it begins with a changed heart as the Spirit is at work.

We’re only four verses in, and Paul’s gotten to the bottom of it already, hasn’t he? Christ died to cover all your sins so that God could come upon you by the Spirit with gracious power, freeing you from the evil of this age! And since God the Father’s own eternal will made this possible--then “to [him] be the glory forever and ever!” Amen!   TAP

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