I’ve now read Galatians 85 times this year alone and we conclude our series in today with Paul’s recap and admonition on how to live. This is my attempt to do the same. If we were citizens in Galatia and were hearers of this letter, these six chapters function as a free flowing charter on how to live in community with each other. This is not the long-winded didactics or the never ending white-papers, rule books or documents of an HOA or community church. Those kinds of institutions try and organize from the outside in, but Paul is trying to organize people from the inside out.
This is why Paul has written in big strokes (Galatians 6:11). Between Judaism and the influence of Rome, the Galatian people (just like us today) were inundated with bureaucratic minutia intended to modify our behavior and keep society going. Institutions were not producing free people then any better than they do now. In fact institutional power entombs people in false identities.
Paul started the letter by reminding Galatia (and now us) that freedom starts as an inside job.Church and state can’t and won’t ever give us freedom. For Paul, true freedom begins when our identity is formed by our Maker saying to us: “We’re good.”This is his whole point about justification(Galatians 2:16-17). This subverts the institutional power and external obligations of religion. If God says you’re good, then you’re good no matter what religion or tradition think you should do. We are free from ritual and obligation. For Paul that is the only Gospel.
It’s not enough to only possess internal freedom. The good news of liberation must make its way out to a liberated life. Paul knows that we all end up in prisons that limit the way we think, the work we do, and the joy we possess. We cut off our life, not just because we make mistakes in judgement, but because there is a war going on within us.We fail to live free not despite our best efforts but because of them for the simple fact that we don’t understand the way we are made.
The balance between the desires of our flesh and spirit is best seen in a metaphor of the cables on a suspension bridge. The tension between the two is what allows the bridge to uphold its weight and carry us across to new land. It’s insufficient and frustrating to pick one side when safe passage between and beyond has always been the design. This tension, this never ending pull can bring everything down or it can make everything work. The key is to start from the inside, at the point of our deepest place of being (Who am I really? Beloved.), and return there over and over again until we finally place our trust that the engineer of the bridge got all the calculations correct and the bridge can support our life. Then and only then do we begin to live out the freedom that is experienced within.
For too long religion has used our sins and failures against us, claiming the whole time that it speaks for God. It gains economic, racial, and religious power over us, and then offers a set of rules, purity codes, ritual, and sin management tools which keep us bouncing between God’s wrath and blessing. Paul comes along and shows us something totally different.He shows us that no work on our part can make God closer to us. There is no gap between humanity and God. God is closer to us than we are to ourselves. This means we are free from institutions that use God to divide us into winners and losers. This freedom also means that we need only concern ourselves with one law, that of love.
Once off the teeter totter, we discover that the law of love is neither religious, nor irreligious, but a third thing that includes all perspectives, and validates all experiences. We are united both at the bottom of the cess pool, as well as at the best humanity can offer. The law of love is so open, so free, so inviting yet at the same time, so binding, so costly and so worth it. In love, the sins that beset us are not failures, but teachers that remind us that a better humanity is in the opposite direction. The law of love operates on entirely new motivations, the kind that we must strive, grow and stretch to possess, but once gained are so powerful that nothing exists that can overpower them. We find ourselves transparently grounded in God when we live from such motivations, and we find our fake ID wreaking havoc when we live from anything less.
Paul’s last nuggets of wisdom are two fold: “But let each one test his own work…”(6:4) and “let us not grow weary of doing good…”(6:9). The heart of this message is in between the lines. Essentially Paul is saying, “Mind your own business” but when paired with the other verses, something bigger emerges. He is saying:
“Everyone of us finds him or herself trying to do life. As such we face institutions that help form us but if we aren’t careful they will define us and rob us of our true identity. God has made a way for us to subvert these through the cosmic work of Christ and now through him we are free from the inside-out. However, each of us is a dialectic of opposing desires, forces, wills, and hopes. This internal tension is a war that can derail our lives or create immense strength and maturity.
We need to help each other out because none of us will ever be free from falling by the wayside. So let’s treat each other with love and understanding. Let’s help each other figure all this out without devouring, judging or tearing one another apart. Stop thinking your are better or worse, farther or closer than everyone else. Just be and do you. In God there is no such thing as “those people.”
Make allowances for others, but don’t settle for anything that comes from an unloving motivation. Strive toward love. Keep working at it. Keep trying. It’s not a win/lose scenario, its simply the path of life that grows us all. So don’t give up, don’t beat yourself or anyone else up, just keep applying faith working through love. If we miss this, we will never win, if we gain this we will never lose. This is what it means to live as the people of God or people walking by the Spirit. The work of Christ for sin is not the only discussion, nor the end of the discussion, its the begining of a life of freedom. (Galatians from the KIV-Keven International Version)