Earlier this week, I posted a column called “Repeating the Error of the Corinthians.”
In it, we discussed a warped view of grace that led the Corinthian Church to believe that sin was no longer a factor and that they could do whatever they wanted.
Image via Pixabay
Today, we’ll look at a different but still relevant error in a different New Testament church, the Galatians, who had a very different problem than the Corinthians.
It was noted in the previous column that it is actually very encouraging to see the struggles of the early Church, as we can take comfort in the fact that God’s people have always needed to wrestle through disagreement, division, and theological questions – it is not just us today!
The Corinthian church had taken grace way too far – in the name of their newfound freedom in Christ, they had embraced a worldview that said that sin was not to be avoided, and could even be engaged in and celebrated, now that sin was forgiven in Christ.
Christian liberty taken too far turns into licentiousness, and that is what Corinth was doing.
The Galatian church was struggling with something else, encapsulated here:
1 You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. 2 I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? 3 Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? 4 Have you experienced so much in vain—if it really was in vain? 5 So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard? 6 So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” (Gal 3.1-6)
The book of Galatians unpacks the story of a church that is wrestling with grace from a different perspective than the Corinthians.
The Corinthians felt that grace meant that everything was permissible and sin no longer mattered.
The Galatians felt that grace was good, but that it was still necessary to earn one’s standing with God through good works.
So the Galatians had fallen back into a legalism that said that you must be circumcised to be right with God, obey the works of the Law, etc.
If the Corinthians had laid aside a serious devotion to God’s Word, the Galatians had missed grace in a different direction, by relying on obedience instead of grace in order to be saved!
We can repeat the error of the Galatians in a number of ways.
Whenever we share condemnation over one falling short of God’s Word, we are doing what they did.
Whenever we make God’s blessings conditional upon our own efforts, we are doing what they did.
Whenever we act as though our favor with God depends upon the good stuff we do, we are doing what they did.
Whenever we feel we need to add anything to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we are doing what they did.
The Corinthian error was licentiousness in the name of grace.
The Galatian error was legalism in spite of grace.
It was the mistake of losing the joy of salvation, the freedom of the Good News, the incredible mercy and grace and gift of God through Jesus.
It was falling back into old habits of earning and striving, of presuming that God can only love us and accept us and bless us if we do enough to make Him happy.
We avoid this error when we lay aside our efforts and find our rest in Jesus.
This is not to say that our efforts are meaningless, as the Corinthians did.
As with so many things, balance is what we seek.
We seek balance between the two extreme errors of licentiousness and legalism.
When we can find that sweet spot, we avoid the errors and learn from their mistakes, which, no doubt, is why God has placed the stories of these churches in His Word.
We receive the correction and instruction given to them, and apply it to ourselves, finding the grace of God as we do so.
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