CHRISTIANS IN GALATIA
What is the purpose of transformation? That may seem like an insignificant
question, but it is a significant question that deserves an answer. It is much too easy to
evade the question by focusing on the results of transformation instead of the purpose of transformation.
So, what is the purpose of transformation? Let me emphasize the purpose of
transformation by first stating what it is not and then by stressing what it is. The purpose
of transformation is not to make everybody else like "me." I do not prove that I have been
transformed by God through Jesus Christ because I like what you like, I do what you do,
my life and your life are replicas of each other, and we approach things in the same way.
Too often in the past we have decided if transformation was occurring by using ourselves
as the measuring stick.
The purpose of transformation is to move everyone in Christ toward God and His
nature. The physical influences and desires of this existence do not determine who I am
or how I live my life. God determines who I am and how I live my life. That is very easy
to say, but very demanding to understand. It is not a matter of talking, but of being.
This evening I want to try to deepen our insights into this process of
transformation by considering the Christians in the Roman province of Galatia (the
gentile Christians to whom Paul wrote the book of Galatians). I ask you to turn to
Galatians 5. I want to read verses 13 through 26.
When we examine this text, we will look at the problem, the reaction, the way
these people lived prior to conversion to Christ, the way these people were to live after
conversion to Christ, and the continuing process of transformation.
- Let's begin by calling our attention to Galatians 5:13-26.
For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your
freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the
whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, "You shall love your neighbor as
yourself." But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by
one another. But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.
For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these
are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if
you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Now the deeds of the flesh are
evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife,
jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness,
carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you,
that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the
Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness,
self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus
have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also
walk by the Spirit. Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one
What was the problem?
- One cannot read chapter 1 and be ignorant of the fact that a serious problem
- Paul obviously was upset--he did not even begin this letter with an word of
encouragement often found in his other letters.
- Almost immediately he went to his deep concern: "I am amazed..." (Galatians
- Then Paul made an emphatic statement he repeated: "No one, not an angel,
not even me has the right to change the message I first gave you gentile
Christians!" (Galatians 1:8,9)
- What was the problem that so upset Paul?
- Paul told gentile Christians (you and I are gentile Christians) that they did not
have to adopt Jewish ways to become Christians, and Jewish Christians
deeply resented Paul's message.
- Many Jewish Christians said, "There is no way these heathen idol worshippers
can be God's people unless they learn Israel's ways!"
- They worship stupid things--carved rocks, carved sticks, animals, insects,
- They have not even known who the living God is.
- They get drunk, commit adultery, lie, steal, cheat and never even know
such things oppose God.
- To prepare to become Christians, first they need the indoctrination involved
in becoming Jewish proselytes.
- The only way to bring their heathen lifestyle to an end is for them to be
converted to Judaism before they are converted to Christ.
- They cannot be Christians unless they first learn how to be like us.
- Paul said, "No! This never was God's plan! God's grace is the power to
transform; gentiles do not have to yield to Jewish ways. They just have to
learn God's ways."
- To Jewish Christians, what Paul said was downright unscriptural, was an
unthinkable spiritual perversion.
- So this is what a group of Jewish Christians from the Jerusalem area did: they
banded together to refute Paul's gospel (good news).
- When Paul left an area, they sent a group of Jewish Christians to that area to
teach Paul's converts to Christ "things Paul failed to tell you."
- These Jewish Christians from Judea would teach the new gentile converts that
their baptism was meaningless unless they first were circumcised.
- "We have known God for almost 1500 years!"
- "God gave the law to us!"
- "God sent the prophets to us!"
- "We know how to do God-things in God-ways and you do not--so allow us
to be your teachers if you are serious about being saved!"
- This is what had Paul so upset.
- These Jewish Christians were teaching gentile Christians that the grace in
Christ that Paul taught them was insufficient.
- They told gentile Christians they could not be Christians unless they
became Jewish proselytes first.
- Though both these Jews and Paul were Christians, there was a major
theological disagreement between them about how a person who was not a
Jew entered into Christ and how a person who was not a Jew stayed in
What was the reaction?
- There was more than one reaction.
- If the gentile Christians believed the Jewish Christians, many of them turned to
Jewish customs and Jewish ways.
- If the gentile Christians believed Paul, many of them looked with contempt on
the Jewish Christians as they rejected them and their teachings.
- Some gentile Christians concluded that God did not care how a person lived
and acted as long as that person believed in Jesus Christ.
- Paul rejected all three of those reactions.
- He did not want gentile Christians believing they had to be Jewish proselytes
to be Christians.
- He did not want gentile Christians having bad attitudes toward Jewish people
(see Romans 11, and note verse 18).
- He certainly did not want gentile Christians concluding God did not care how
- Paul wanted gentile Christians to understand that God in Christ provided them
freedom from becoming Jewish proselytes, freedom from Jewish
culture-tradition-law, freedom from Jewish ways, but the purpose of that freedom
was not ungodly living.
- The purpose of their freedom was not to live as they pleased doing anything
- The thrust of the ten commandments given to early Israel in Exodus 20 was to
honor God and to honor people.
- You honored God by:
- Recognizing He is the only God, not one of many gods.
- Not worshipping or making idols.
- Not using God's name lightly.
- Depending totally on God.
- You honored people by:
- Taking care of your older parents.
- Not murdering people.
- Not committing adultery with people.
- Not stealing.
- Not lying about people.
- Not allowing greed to make you want what belonged to another person.
- Paul said if you had the love that lay behind all these acts, you would behave
in this manner (honoring God and honoring people).
- If you love, you will do the things the law instructed.
- If you do not love, you will destroy each other.
- Freedom was given to allow you to love others, not to indulge yourself.
Before they believed that Jesus Christ was the resurrected son of God, how
had they lived?
- This was the starting point, the essential understanding: they must understand the
animosity between the flesh and the Spirit, between physical concerns and God's
- It is as impossible to mix a fleshly focus and a Spirit focus as it is to mix
absolute light and absolute darkness.
- They are natural enemies.
- Each is dedicated to the other's destruction--they cannot coexist.
- A basic Christian understanding regardless of cultural background: forces
which opposed God and God's values and forces which champion God and
His values are at war.
- They are not compatible and never will be compatible.
- Do not be deceived into believing that a Christian can use his or her
freedom in Christ to endorse and support both sides in this war.
- When they were idolaters, they lived for the flesh (or, physical concerns and
desires determined how they behaved).
- How did they live then? How did they behave then?
- Verses 19-21 enumerate some of the common expressions of the "works of the
- I would classify what I call the first group (immorality, impurity, sensuality,
idolatry, sorcery) as insults against God and His holy nature.
- I would classify what I call the second group (strife, jealousy, outbursts of
anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying) as insults against other
- I would classify what I call the third group (drunkenness, carousing) as
insults or abuses against one's self.
- May I quickly add all three of these areas are inner-connected and inner-
- Paul would say that before you believed in Christ, your life insulted God,
your life abused other people, and your life abused your own nature.
- In fact there is a powerful parallel with the emphasis in the Ten
Commandments -- before Christ your life did not honor God and did not
After they believed in and accepted Jesus Christ, the focus of their life
- No longer do they live selfishly, doing as they please.
- Believing in Christ resulted in a whole new understanding of God, and they will
not use life to insult God.
- Believing in Christ resulted in a whole new understanding of other people, and
they will not use life to abuse, intimidate, or exploit other people.
- Believing in Christ resulted in a whole new understanding of self, and they will
not use life to indulge self.
- The entire focus of life has changed--they now exist to produce the fruit of the
- Their life will give evidence in every area that God's presence is in them, and
who they are is consciously determined by a willing surrender to God.
- They are now committed to love, joy (not indulgence), peace, patience,
kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control.
- These things properly represent God's nature.
- These things change the way they treat people.
- These things change the way they treat themselves.
Please note these changes occur because Christians want them to occur.
- This is a willful, willing change.
- It does not happen involuntarily because "something came over me, controlled
me, and I could not resist."
- It happens because I want it to happen, I encourage it to happen, I behave in
the manner that allows it to happen.
- Those who belong to Christ crucify the flesh.
- Physical things will not define who I am or determine how I live.
- I choose "for" an existence that is dedicated to killing the control of desires and
hungers in me that oppose God.
- When I belong to Christ, I choose to let the Spirit instead of the flesh direct my
- If the Spirit makes it possible for me to have life in God, I must also allow the Spirit
to determine how I behave.
- The immediate evidence that I have surrendered to transformation is seen in
the way I treat people--including you!
- I will not be arrogant!
- I will not exploit or abuse other people!
Transformation is more than a "one time" change. It is a journey in the direction of
God. Are you on that journey?
West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 15 August 2004
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