Over the past 6 weeks we have been journeying through Paul’s letter to the Galatians. We have seen that the source of freedom in Christ is the gospel – the good news of his death and resurrection for us. This good news can change lives because it frees us from having to please people or gain their approval. Through faith in Jesus, we can live securely in God’s approval. God uses his commands and laws to point us to Jesus so that he can rescue us from being slaves to our human desires and produce the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our relationships with other people.
Now, as we come to the conclusion of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he finishes off writing the letter with his own hand. Most biblical scholars I have read believe that Paul’s letters were written down by a scribe because he had really bad eyesight. He writes his own farewell to the Galatian Christians because he wants them to know that these words come from him. For Paul, this was personal.
There is one thing Paul wants the Galatian Christians to be sure of – that from God’s perspective it doesn’t matter whether they are circumcised or not. God doesn’t love them any more if they are circumcised and he doesn’t love them any less if they are not. In fact, given what Paul has said through Galatians about the law in general, we can hear him saying that our standing before God does not depend on the rules at all. As long as we live under the rules, either we will be puffed up with our own importance or we will be crushed under our inability to live up to them.
When Paul says that he has been crucified to the world and the world to him through the cross of Jesus, he is saying that he is dead to the worldly way of determining his identity and value through his success or failure to keep any set of demands, expectations or rules. They are dead to him because he has found his identity and value in the cross of Jesus. This event, the death of Jesus for him, identifies him as a redeemed child of God who is loved completely and whom God values. Through faith in the cross of Christ, Paul is a new creation.
We live in a culture that likes new things. Generally, as things get older, they become worn, torn, damaged or broken, and they lose their value. However, when some things are kept in ‘as-new’ condition, their value can actually increase to collectors. For example, a comic book which features the first appearance of Superman was sold a few years ago for around US$3.2 million. Things tend to become less valuable as they get older and are worn out or damaged, so we usually like new things. However, if something is kept in ‘as-new’ condition, they can become more valuable to the owner.
That is where Paul’s words that all that matters now is the new creation can be such good news for us. Life has a way of wearing us down, pulling us apart, or breaking us in one way or another, either emotionally, physically or spiritually. However, the promise of Revelation 21:5 is that God is in the business of making all things new – and that includes us! Through Jesus, everything that is worn, torn or broken about us is crucified with Jesus and we are joined in his resurrection to new life through faith in him. That is why, in Romans 6:3,4 Paul talks about baptism being the way in which we are crucified with Jesus and raised with him so that we can live a new life. This is a life that is pure, good, clean and whole, not just from a sense of moral behavior, but because that is what it is. In Christ, everything about us that is ‘old’ – worn, torn, bruised or broken – is dead and we are raised again as clean, shiny, whole, brand new creations through faith in Christ. The same voice that declared creation to be good at the start of time also speaks over us as part of God’s new creation (Genesis 1) and declares us good in his eyes. Paul makes it clear in 2 Corinthians 5:17 when he writes:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (NIV)
Paul wants the Galatian Christians, and us who hear his hand-written words two thousand years later, to keep this in the front of our minds. The Christian life is not about rules, expectations or traditions. It is about living as God’s new creation in our relationships and in our world. Paul is challenging us to re-evaluate our communities, our organizations, and our relationships so that we can find and grow in God’s new creation in us through the Holy Spirit. I can hear Paul challenging us to keep the one thing that matters – God’s the new creation in us through Jesus – as our highest priority. He wants us to let go of what isn’t that important and grow in his new creation, not just for our own benefit, but so that others can grow in the goodness and value of the new creation God is working in them as well.
How might this look if we applied it to our congregation? What might change if we started to re-evaluate who we are and what we do from Paul’s point of view that the only thing that really matters is God working the new creation in us and in the people around us through us? Maybe we could find freedom – from other people’s expectations, from the burdens of the past, from unproductive busy-ness, from slavery to rules and traditions that can rob people of life rather than grow new life in them. Paul concludes his letter by telling us that the only thing that really counts is God’s new creation in us by the work of the Holy Spirit through the good news of Jesus. There is peace and mercy for all who follow this. There is freedom in God’s new creation in us to be his life-giving people in the world.