On certain spring days, when the temperature is just right and the breeze is steady, I am taken back in time to another spring, many years ago, when I was a short-term missionary in Jamaica.
Maybe you’ve had this experience: your senses take a mental snapshot of a moment—a seemingly perfect moment—so that it might be remembered forever. In this case, I was hiking back to our mission house one afternoon, talking with a friend. Something about the kingdom work we were doing on our trip, the spiritual conversation we were having as we walked, and the beauty of our surroundings made an impression deep inside of me. To this day, when the dwindling afternoon sunlight hits my eyes just right or I smell a certain combination of nearby ocean mists and fruit trees in bloom, I am transported to that moment.
My mind has taken other pictures over the years, but for reasons unknown to me, this one is the most vivid. And every time I’m taken back, the goosebumps on my arms remind me that God is present in my life, no matter my current circumstances. It’s a gift that cannot be purchased or earned. Even if I headed to the airport and boarded a flight to Kingston, I doubt the trip would have the same effect.
There are certain beautiful experiences in this world that cannot be maneuvered into being, the most precious of which is receiving the grace offered by God in Christ. Yet that’s precisely what the Galatian Christians were being talked into. There was a moment—a wonderful, amazing, unforgettable moment—for each and every Galatian believer, when they understood the gospel deep within and took hold of it as their own, when they surrendered to God’s love and traded their sins for Christ’s righteousness. But now a group of false teachers were telling them they had to earn God’s favor through obedience to certain aspects of Old Testament law, including circumcision. In short, they were being told to doubt the moment that everything in their life had changed.
Paul wrote to remind the Galatians of their freedom in Christ. Jesus paid the price for their sins, so there was now nothing standing between them and the love of God. “For you were called to be free, brothers and sisters” (Galatians 5:13). But the false teachers in their midst were preaching a twisted gospel that would render Christ’s sacrifice meaningless. If salvation must be earned, the cross accomplished nothing. To turn and follow the instructions of the false teachers would be to turn away from Christ, to reject the grace He offers. It’s no wonder Paul used such harsh language in this passage: “I wish those who are disturbing you might also let themselves be mutilated!” (v.12). This is deadly serious business.
More powerful than a sight or a smell that can transport a person back in time, Paul’s letter to the Galatians served to remind them of the moment in their own history that was truer than every lie those false teachers could think up. But his letter wasn’t just for them. The Holy Spirit inspired Paul’s words and preserved them so that you and I, nearly two thousand years later, could receive the same reminder: In Christ, we have God’s love. There’s nothing we can do to show ourselves approved. We already are, and it’s all thanks to grace, bought and paid for on our behalf at Calvary.
Written by John Greco