Weekly Update | June 5th, 2024

adam greenwell billings vineyard church free grace galatians legalism paul Jun 05, 2024

Why all this legalism talk? I had a great conversation last week that started with a question about the focus of our Sunday morning teaching, Why has there been such a focus on legalism and free grace? Isn’t there more to talk about, aren’t there other topics we could cover rather than continuing to beat this particular drum? After thanking this dude for paying attention and asking permission to use our conversation for answering that question in a wider context, I took a swing at answering his concerns as I heard his perspective.

The trailhead for finding the answer begins with acknowledging how correct the observation is. For the past two months I have used the term “free grace” about 90 times over seven sermons, and “legalism,” “law,” or “religion” nearly 120 times. The dude has a point. Why have I become a one-trick pony in the corral of Biblical exegesis? What kind of fool seminary would confer a degree upon a guy that can’t teach beyond legalism and free grace? Good point…

As we lay the forms for the answer to this question, we have to begin with the most basic point. Galatians is written about free grace and legalism, and we are preaching through the book of Galatians; this is what the book is about. Exegesis is the fancy term for pulling meaning from, when we extract the purpose and application of scripture and then teach it in community.

The flip side of that particular coin is called eisegesis, which means putting meaning into scripture, approaching the Bible with preconceived bias, motive, and belief and forcing those into scripture. We either mine scripture to dig out of the passage what is intended by the confluence of the Holy Spirit inspiring the human author, or we look for ways to support our own positions by reading into scripture a meaning that simply isn’t there.

To exegete the letter Paul wrote to the churches in Galatia is to find his theme of free grace and legalism, so we begin there. From this, we transit to the question of why teach through this book in this way, and what consequences might come from teaching through the book of Galatians. The why has a few components to it that range from the simple to the more complex.

The simple reason we go line-by-line through a book of the Bible is so we can know it and grow with it. At some points in history (and in some traditions today) the Word of God was left only to experts to know and teach, excluding the group discernment that occurs when a community reads and interacts with scripture together. Also, I am not a fan of the topical sermon series…

I think that the Bible does a pretty good job of hitting the topics we need hit because part of the proof of the Biblical pudding is in how RELEVANT it remains throughout the centuries of historical timeline. For a quick tangent, I have, do, and will do again topical sermon series… I know they have a place; I just prefer teaching through a book of the Bible. Topical sermons can take on a “self-help” feel, or can be done for entertainment value and consumption, which are not proper uses of scripture (reach out to me if you want more dialogue on that point).

The more complex reason to the why Galatians question is that I think reframing our posture towards grace is essential to being the Light on the Hill during a divisive time in American culture. Every generation or so, our country is faced with social division that creates a self-feeding cycle of conflict. Conflict begets conflict, and conflict becomes the reason why others create conflict. Some of the conflicts are healthy, corrective, and oriented towards justice, while some is unhealthy, divisive, and attempts at usurping power. As culture becomes divisive, the role of the church must be evaluated.

As the Body of Christ, the living expression of God to the world in this historical age, how we react to the conflict around us matters. The temptation to increase security, build stronger walls, and turn inward is powerful, especially when the church becomes a target of conflicts. The reality of being a target is something we share with every church in every age, and it reflects a promise that Jesus made, that because the world hated Him, it would also hate us (John 15).

An “us versus them” mindset can be created, followed closely by the creation of standards of how we judge who is us and who is them… Legalism. The metrics created by this response to conflict create a reality that demands an entry fee into the Kingdom of God, a fee paid in behavior, political position, or other expression of agreement. While this may not be the same entry point for legalism as occurred in Galatia, the result can look the same.

Embracing free grace, and by extension an attitude of freely giving what was freely received, leads to the church looking different from worldly culture. The church becomes a refuge for encountering God that leads to life-transforming rather than behavior mimicking. Galatians as a study beckons us towards the amazing reality of the unfolding plan of God, that we are His and He desires relationship with us.

The danger of this is that free grace can be confused as cheap grace. There are some that take the message to far and create a consequence free religion that is as false as the one created by legalism… because we are going line-by-line through Galatians, we can trust that Paul will answer that concern shortly! Free grace and legalism… our themes for the season.

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