This last year my family has had the privilege of living in a winter rental on Wingaersheek Beach. We were just a two block walk from Coffins Beach, a shoreline that if you follow, takes you to the beautiful Essex Bay.
Last week I was running along Coffins Beach at dusk, and I saw three people huddled together on a blanket, looking at the ocean. Well, actually, I could see that at least two of them were looking at their phones. As I approached them and then passed them, I was struck that these 4 or 5 inch screens had somehow won the focus of these beach-sitters, with the vast ocean in front of them and the orange tint of sun on the horizon.
Paul asks in Galatians 1 whether the Gospel of Jesus is enough? If the work that God has done on our behalf, by sending his son Jesus to rescue us from our sins—is that enough? When we think about who we are, our identity, our security in life—is Christ’s death and resurrection sufficient for us?
It didn’t seem to have been enough for the churches in Galatia.
Some teachers had come among the Galatian Christians, seeking to undermine Paul’s authority and the content of his teaching. They were telling the Galatians that this Gospel of Jesus—that Jesus rescued us from our sins (v. 4)—was not enough to save you. Yes, these teachers taught, the Galatian churches needed Jesus, but they also needed to observe all of the customs and regulations and laws that were a part of 1st century Judaism. In other words, they have to believe in Jesus and fulfill all the requirements of the law to be accepted by God, to find his favor, to be right with him.
When I read the Bible, there seems to be something of a recurring pattern. I read a passage like this, perhaps looking ahead to Galatians 3 where Paul says, “You foolish Galatians!” and say to myself—yeah, those foolish Galatians! Who would buy such garbage; who would believe the lies they are believing? Paul says, “Who has bewitched you?” And I think—really! Who has bewitched you, Galatians?
And then I sit with the passage a little bit longer. And I think about myself. And… I start to see myself as part of Paul’s audience. I know that I believe that the Gospel of Jesus—”Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again”—I believe that that Gospel is enough. But do I always act like it is?
Am I confident in the sufficiency of the Gospel of Jesus, or do I look elsewhere to supplement it? Can I just rest in my identity as God’s much-loved child, or do I still find myself doing things to try to boost my standing in God’s eyes? Tim Keller says, “We love to be our own saviors… so we find messages of self-salvation extremely attractive.”
This grace, this undeserved favor from God is so present, and yet how often do we think it’s great, but not really enough? “I’ll take it from here, God!” Are we at times too quick to gloss over the grace that is all around us? Just as we see ourselves as part of Paul’s audience, perhaps we also see ourselves in those people on Coffins Beach that I ran past last week. They had a majestic ocean sunset in front of them and yet were glued to their tiny screens.
That is no gospel. The true Gospel of Jesus–the grace that God offers–is enough. And the call in the first part of Galatians is to accept the gift of God’s grace. We receive it. Paul talks about this Gospel of grace (in verse 9) as something that the Galatians once received. In verse 12 he talks about this Gospel of grace as something that he received from Jesus.
The grace of God in Christ is something to be received, accepted, arms held open, palms facing upward.
The Revised Common Lectionary is going through Galatians in six weeks. Last week (June 2) was the first Sunday, covering Galatians 1:1-12. This week (June 9) overlaps the last two verses of that reading and covers Galatians 1:11-24. The above is excerpted from the sermon I preached on Galatians 1:1-12.