MAY THE WORDS OF MY MOUTH AND THE MEDITATION OF MY HEART BE ALWAYS ACCEPTABLE IN THY SIGHT OH LORD MY STRENGH AND MY REDEEMER.
Salvation by Faith
"Brethren, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.” Galatians vi. 18.
For some weeks now we have been listening to St. Paul trying to explain to the Galatians what is important and what is not important. He has now reached the end of his letter to them and admits right up front that it is a long letter. He also states that he has written this letter with his own hand. In reality St. Paul dictated the letter to a scribe however he is so passionate and anxious for the Galatians to understand he actually writes the whole final paragraph himself. It is interesting to note that he wrote the paragraph in very large letters. We can only speculate that he did so because of its importance or because he was not accustom to writing with a pen or that his eyes were so weak all he could see were the large sprawling letters. In this final paragraph St. Paul comes back to the central point of his letter, it is faith in Christ which opens up a new life.
There were those who wanted the Galatians to get themselves circumcised and they offered three reasons for doing so. First it would save them from persecution as the Romans recognized the Jewish religion and officially allowed the Jews to practice it. Circumcision was the indisputable mark of a Jew so it was a passport to safety. Secondly, it was a way of keeping or obeying the rules and regulations of Jewish law and hopefully doing so would win the approval of God. Paul was quite certain that nothing that individuals could achieve for themselves could win salvation. So once again he points them to the cross and summons them to stop trying to earn salvation but instead trust their salvation to the grace of God by living by the Spirit. Lastly, those who want the Galatians to be circumcised did not themselves keep the law, no one could. But they wanted to boast about their conquest of the Galatians and glory in their power over people whom they had reduced to their own legalistic religious slavery. So, St. Paul once again says with all the intensity he is capable of that circumcision and uncircumcision do not matter.
So what is it that St. Paul says in his letter to the Galatians does matter? First of all, his letter to the Galatians is important for several reasons. It is among the earliest, if not the earliest, of all the writings in the New Testament. The letter gives us an insight into the problems that arose in the Christian churches of the first century after Jesus' physical death, and most important of all, it reveals one of the most essential elements in Paul's views on Christianity. This letter has sometimes been called "Paul's declaration of independence," a designation that means freedom from bondage to laws of any kind, whether human laws or divine laws. On this particular point, Paul made a definite break not only with Judaism but with those Christians of Jewish descent who thought of the new religion in terms of obedience both to the Mosaic Law and the laws enunciated by Jesus.
These two competing conceptions of Christianity generally were held respectively by the Jewish and the Gentile elements in the membership of the Christian church. Those with a Jewish background held what may be called a legalistic conception of religion; the Gentile element under the leadership of Paul believed in a spiritual conception. According to the latter view, salvation can never be achieved by trying to obey the requirements of the Law.
Because human nature is such that a person follows the desires of their heart, and so long as these desires are contrary to the requirements of the Law, the result will be disobedience and a sense of guilt.
When Paul speaks of salvation by faith, he means the situation in which desires have been changed so that what one wants to do will coincide with what one ought to do, a transformation that humanity cannot bring about by itself alone but that can take place only when the Spirit of God in Christ takes possession of people’s hearts and minds. Salvation, the very essence of Christian mysticism, means a union, or oneness, of the individual and God. In other words, God dwells within the life of the individual, whose nature is thereby changed from that which is prone to do evil to that prone to do good. The earthly career of Jesus is significant because it illustrates what can happen to any human being who allows the Spirit of God to take full possession of him, an idea clearly expressed by Paul when he says, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me."
Paul's argument did not convince all members of the Christian community.
Many members, especially those of a Jewish background and understanding, still held to the legalistic view. The conflict between the legalistic and the mystical interpretations of religion can be traced through all of the successive periods of Christian history and is still one of the vital issues in contemporary theology.
Perhaps one way to think about this in today’s world is to view the law as a guide rather than a rule of law, in other words here are some of the things you should not do. Listen to the Holy Spirit through meditation and prayer related to specific issues in your life. You will know if something is right or wrong and if you are unclear then spend more time meditating and praying until the answer is clear. And as St. Paul says “Brethren, the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.”
And now unto God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost be ascribed all might, majesty, power and dominion as is most justly due this day; world without end. AMEN