Church Write-Up: Works, and Galatians

I went to the Missouri Synod Lutheran church’s weekly Lenten service.

The pastor opened with an anecdote about his father.  His father worked for a Kleenex company as a supervisor.  The father would leave at 5:00 AM, before the pastor got up to go to school.  The father would come home later in the day, eat dinner, and take a nap before going to bed.  The pastor said that he thought his father was a spy, since he did not see him that much.  One day, though, the pastor woke up, preparing to go to school, and his father was there!  The pastor wondered why his father was not going to work, and it turned out that the father was retiring.  The pastor wondered what his dad would do without work, since the father only missed two days in his decades of working for that company.  The father went on to have a happy retirement, however, and he shared with his son that the Kleenex company was good for making a living, but it was not his life.

The pastor went on to read Galatians 2:15-20:

15 We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles,
16 Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.
17 But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid.
18 For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor.
19 For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God.
20 I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. (KJV)

The pastor’s father recognized that life was not about his job.  Many of us define people in reference to their occupations, and we often define their and our success according to such factors as salary.  Similarly, the pastor said, there were Galatian Judaizers who defined their spiritual worth according to their observance of the law, when they were sinners just like those on whom they looked down.  There are many Christians who do the same, asserting that they are better than others.  The pastor said that, in God’s eyes, we all fall short.  We will fall when we try to jump over the Grand Canyon on our own, whether we miss the other side by a little, or a lot.  Because we fall short, we, like the Publican in Jesus’ parable in Luke 18:10-14, should ask God to be merciful to us sinners, and God is abundant in mercy.

The pastor shared another anecdote.  He talked about when his second daughter was seeing the man who would become her husband, and this man was asking for the pastor’s permission to date the pastor’s daughter.  The pastor replied that other men she dated wanted to be part of her life.  This man, however, wanted her to be a part of his life.  I was not entirely clear about which was better, but the pastor obviously preferred the latter.  But the pastor’s point was that we should want Jesus to be part of our lives, more often than when we attend church.

I think that it is important for me to remember that I fall short.  Hopefully, that can at least be a seed for me to show mercy to others.  Often, it seems that I can recognize my own imperfections and still dislike certain people, or struggle to forgive certain people.  Still, I need some repertoire to help me to be more merciful than I am, and maybe remembering that I fall short can form part of that repertoire.  And yet, Paul does not end with us falling short: he talks about living unto God, Christ living inside of him, faith, and Christ’s love in giving himself for him.

Something that I have wondered about the Judaizers: certainly they recognized that they needed Christ to be forgiven, right?  They were Christians, after all.  Yet, Paul sometimes seems to imply that their attempts to observe the law neglected Christ’s act of salvation (i.e., Galatians 2:21).  But were they trying to earn their salvation by their own good works, or were they simply observing the law as a way to live a righteous life?  Maybe they believed in both: they felt they needed forgiveness to receive a clean slate, but from that point on they needed to earn their righteousness through obedience towards the law.  Paul says in Galatians 3:3 that they began their spiritual lives in the Spirit but attempted to continue it in the flesh: their focus went from what God was doing to what they could do.  Moreover, the Judaizers may have looked down on Gentile Christians who were not observing the rituals that they were.  Paul felt a need to emphasize that what was important was the Christians’ common faith in Christ.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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