Friday, 19 September 2014
Galatians 2:15-21: How free do you want to be?
“I could just die!” Have you ever thought or spoken those words in a moment of embarrassment?
When I was seven, I was in a play at a local children’s theater. The director took stories and rewrote them with lots of bit parts so that every child would get to participate. That year I got a small role in the show “Mr. Fibs”. I had seven lines, which was a personal record.
Sitting backstage at rehearsal, I was busy negotiating with a friend who had cooler shoes than I had. My mother insisted I wear saddle oxfords until I was nine so that my ankles would be strong. Her mom had no such scruples. I begged her to exchange shoes with me for the duration of the rehearsal. She humored me and we made the switch.
Suddenly it was time for me to parade onstage with two other children for our scene. As I walked on, I realized the shoe exchange had distracted me from something very important. I had to go to the bathroom. Now. During the three minutes it took to recite our little onstage conversation, I assumed a variety of stances intended to delay the inevitable. To no avail. The moment came, mid-sentence when my legs had a warm bath and a puddle formed at my feet. I managed to continue delivering my lines, hoping no one would notice.
We filed offstage. I was embarrassed, but also thought I had gotten away with it. I mean, any one of the hundred children who rehearsed that day could have done it, right? Then my friend asked for her shoes back. “They’re wet!” “Yeah,” I said weakly, “my feet sweat a lot when I’m nervous.” I wanted to die right then and there.
The freedom of death. Instinctively we know that death is the ultimate fresh start, wiping our slate clean from every humiliation. It also puts an end to other problems–bankruptcy, overwork, marriage difficulties, scandal. There’s just one problem with it. You’re no longer alive. Bummer. If only we could die, and then somehow come back and start over.
We can. This is the kind of freedom Paul talks about in the passage before us. The freedom that comes from being dead. And then being handed a whole new life. The kind of freedom we have in Christ.
Paul is in the middle of explaining to the Galatian readers why Peter was at fault. In the midst of his explanation he moves from the language of justification into the language of death and life. Why? Because there’s more to justification than legal acquittal before God. Justification leads to life. Not through the law but through a person. Join me in following Paul’s logic.
This week’s questions. We are backing up and repeating two verses in order to get into the flow of the argument. (By the way, Martin Luther considered these seven verses to be a continuation of Paul’s question to Peter in 2:14. It makes for an interesting change of tone to read it that way.) This is a tightly reasoned section, so put on your thinking cap!
1. Read Galatians 2:15-16. Paul and Peter share a common cultural background. The Jews took God’s law seriously. What is Paul asserting about his Jewishness? What is he asserting about the gospel? What are some rules of the family or culture you grew up in? Do any of these feel so right to you that you tend to judge people by them? How does the gospel relate to those rules?
2. Read Galatians 2:17-18. I think this section is hard to understand. Picture a family heirloom vase and a child who was raised with the rule that he must never touch it. The day comes when he does and it topples and breaks. What might he try to do? (He broke the rule, how can he make it right?) What (or who in the family) could make it fully OK?
3. Read Galatians 2:19-20. How does verse 19 answer the dilemma set up in vv 17-18? How does verse 20 connect this “right answer” to the person of Jesus Christ?
4. Read Galatians 2:21. This verse shows that addition is actually subtraction in the economy of God. Restate this truth as if you were teaching it to a third grade math class.
5. Galatians 2:20 changes the tone of Paul’s argument, making it personal, instead of just legal or financial. What does this verse say about how near our Savior is to us everyday?
6. Sometimes the death of Jesus for us on the cross makes us feel guilty, like when we track mud across the kitchen and mom has to clean up our mess. All we can do is apologize and try not to do it again. How does the phrase, “who loved me and gave himself for me,” change your response to Jesus?
7. When I believed in Christ, I died with him. What part of the Old Me is troubling me today? Consider it dead, and live in the freedom of death.
8. When I believed in Christ, he came to live in me. What part of the Christian life feels hard to me? Remember that I am never alone, but the One who loves me is with me.