It Only Works when You Commit

angel with sparkler wings
Photo credit: <a href="">Cameron Russell</a>

Galatians 3:6-9

Here’s the deal. Just like Abraham “committed to God, and that commitment was what made him right,” so in the same way everyone who commits to God are Abraham’s children. As far as scripture is concerned, heathen come to God the same way. It even says, “All the heathen will be blessed in you, Abraham.” So anyone who commits gets the same blessing Abraham got by committing.

There’s no such thing, if you take Paul seriously, as evangelism by procreation. You are not, spiritually speaking, what your parents were. You make your own commitments.

In it’s original context, it means you didn’t have to be Jewish to follow the Jewish God Jesus believed in. That was pretty radical in it’s time.

Now it also means that you don’t have to belong to any religious family just because you were born there. It means that you can be anything you want to be. You have to make your own commitments.

Of course, if you have to make your own commitments, you have to put some effort in. You can’t just cruise along through life saying, “I’m a Presbyterian,” (or whatever you say you are) without really committing to it. An uncommitted Presbyterian (or Methodist, or Baptist, or Catholic) isn’t really a Presbyterian (or Methodist, or Baptist, or Catholic) at all. I’m pretty sure there are a lot of atheists who are as uncommitted about their atheism as many religious people are about their religion, too. And it probably works for Buddhists, Muslims, and Hindus.

The point is that with religion, like with anything else (mathematics, art, business), there is no benefit without commitment.

Are You Willing to Go Beyond Fear?

cars on an assembly line
Photo credit: <a href="">John Lloyd</a>

Galatians 3:1-5

You stupid Galatians! Who’s bewitched you? You are witnesses to the public crucifixion of Jesus. So you tell me now, did you get God’s idea by following rules, or by making a commitment to what you’d heard? Are you such idiots that you start with God’s idea but then end up trying to do it on your own? Doesn’t all your experience teach you anything? Apparently not! What does your experience tell you – that God’s work and amazing things happen when you’re following rules, or when you’re true to your commitment?

Paul isn’t going to get any points for making nice here. Calling people stupid idiots is not the way to win friends and influence people.

After you strip away Paul’s scathing tirade, though, the question he’s asking really is worth thinking about. Do amazing things happen when you’re following rules, or do they happen when you’re true to your commitment?

I’d venture to guess that it’s some of both. Sometimes, when you’re starting out with something, you need a few rules. You learn how things work. You find your bearings. Once you know the rules, when you’ve put in the time and become a virtuoso at your art, then, maybe, you can leave the rulebook behind – sometimes.

But, what Paul is furious about is that the Galatians have the capacity to be virtuosos. They have the experience – or Paul thinks they do – to make life following Jesus artful. But in spite of their ability, they’re playing it safe. They’re allowing their fear to rule them, rather than living into the freedom that is theirs for the taking.

So, what about you? Are you fearfully following rules, or are you living into the best of your potential? Is your life an assembly line product, or is at an art?

Just Say No to Cookbook Religion

chef with flaming wok
Photo credit: <a href="">Ricardo Liberato</a>

Galatians 2:15-21

We who, unlike the benighted pagans, were born into Judaism – we know that obeying the letter of the law isn’t what makes you right. It’s embracing the way of Jesus. We’ve embraced Jesus to get past legalism. Nobody is right just because he or she follows the letter of the law. Even so, if in our striving to be right by embracing Jesus we still screw up, that doesn’t make Jesus a screw-up! Hell no! In the contrary, if I’ve started putting things back together after I’ve screwed them up, it means I recognize that I was wrong.

Being a legalist killed me – and so I started living for God instead. Jesus’ crucifixion was my own. So now that I’m dead, Jesus can live on in me. My earthly existence is an emulation of Jesus dedication, who loved me enough to trade his life for the sake of mine. I’ll never take that for granted. If obeying the law makes you right, then Jesus’ death really was futile.

Religion comes from the Latin meaning rule. But Jesus isn’t about rules. Even Paul, in his best moments, recognizes that it’s not about rules. It’s about commitment to something greater than yourself.

Sure, following rules is easier. It’s much easier just to do what someone tells you to do. Or to look for instructions in a book.

Cooking is easier when you follow a recipe. But the best chefs know how to put the right ingredients together in the right amounts without needing a recipe. They write it down later so the rest of us can imitate their genius, but to them it’s not following rules, it’s engaging the creative juices present in the ingredients.

What the Galatians seem to want is another cook-book faith. Follow this code. Obey this law. First do this. Then say that. But Paul wants them to leave the cookbook behind and start living creatively into the calling of Jesus.

If you’re looking for a cookbook for religion, there are no shortages of religious options out there. But if you want to follow Jesus, there is no recipe. You have to become a chef.

Bait and Switch – Just Don’t

crucifix hanging from string of buddhas with strange animal about to eat
Image credit: <a href="">Charles Hutchins</a>

Galatians 2:11-14

Then, when Peter came to visit at Antioch, I had a face-off with him. He was such a hypocrite! He dined with the heathen until some of Jim’s people arrived. But then, to mollify those legalists, he cut himself off from them and kept to himself – and the Jews, even Barnabas, were suckered into joining him in his hypocrisy. When I saw what was happening, how they weren’t practicing what they preached, I told Cephas publicly, “If you’re so Jewish, and you live like a heathen, how can you expect the heathen to behave like Jews?”

If we give Peter the benefit of the doubt, he was just doing what Paul had recommended: trying to be “all things to all people.”

But I’m with Paul on this one. If you’re going to say and do something, you can’t mollify someone else’s foibles about it and maintain your credibility. Especially when you’ve made implicit commitments. Either make your case for what you’re committed to, or admit that you’re just not that committed. In business, that’s what they call “bait and switch.”

It’s never a good practice in business. Say one thing to get them in the door, and then as it turns out, there are lots of strings attached to the deal. You might get lots of people in the door, but they’re not going to stay. And no matter how good your next deal is, they’re not coming back.

Lots of churches play the game, though. “Just say you believe in Jesus is all that’s required.” That’s how it starts. But then, there are strings – you have to give up all your “pagan ways,” which can include just about anything. And it starts early. The bait comes with Sunday school. The switch comes with high school.

No wonder so few people are willing to give it another try.

My best (and Paul’s) advice to churches – and businesses, and families, and anyone else who cares to take it: Don’t bait and switch.