Monday, October 7, 2013
Scratching the Surface of Galatians
Scratching the Surface of Galatians
Dr. Macleod, Professor of Homiletics and Liturgics at Princeton Theological Seminary and author of Presbyterian Worship which remains the most comprehensive yet clear explanation of the meaning and method of Reformed worship, wrote of baptism in the cited book, "...the sign and seal of God's initiative taken in our behalf through His Son, Jesus Christ, and therefore the main thing is not what men do, but what God Himself as done." Then he quotes Richard Davidson: "Baptism is the door by which all come in. The newcomer may be a man of years or an infant of days; the Church takes him up in baptism, and then fathers him, mothers him, brothers him till Christ is formed in him. Baptism is a step in the process of initiation into the family and household of God."
Indeed, while the Greek meaning of baptism can mean to dip, drip, dab, or dunk, the deeper meaning refers to dyeing or changing colors as in allegiance, affection, and intention.
When an adult is baptized, she or he is declaring allegiance to and affection for God with the intention to be His in all things at all times in all places with all people.
When an infant is baptized, parents and family of faith are joining together in providing examples as well as education and environment that will encourage the child to grow in allegiance to and affection for God with the intention to be His in all things at all times in all places with all people.
Of course, too many folks go through the sacrament while posing religion rather than authentic relational desire to enflesh the allegiance, affection, and intention; or as Dr. Macleod often joked with his classes, "A woman came to me to schedule a baptism; wanting, as she said, to get little Johnny done. I asked how she wanted little Johnny done - rare, medium, or well done."
Paul's letter to the Galatians is about separating Christian posers from authentics; distinguishing a religion about Jesus that is good for next to nothing from here to eternity from a relationship with Jesus that is the best from here to eternity.
Specifically, he refers to circumcision which can be seen as a precursor to baptism as a religious exercise intended to display devotion to God; noting circumcision, like baptism, can be done without any real devotion.
Like everything that we do religiously about God rather than relationally in, through, and for God, we can be circumcised or baptized by a religious method without a relational meaning; as in going through the motions without meaning it.
I'm reminded of the story of the fellah who asks the pastor how the church can get rid of the bats in the belfry. The pastor answers, "Well, we'll just baptize 'em and then we'll never see 'em again!"
Religion without meaning is like that.
Many people are religious about God; just going through the motions and not making a heaven bit of difference in their behaviors.
People who are related to God make a heaven of a lot of difference in the world, nation, churches, families, and with everyone all of the time in every place because it/He shows they are marked off for Him - truly circumcised/baptized - by their behaviors.
Paul wrote to the Galatians to explain how true circumcision/baptism/religion is infinitely more about meaning than method as expressed through confession, conduct, and countenance: "The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love."
He explains how the truly circumcised/baptized - an intellectual, emotional, and spiritual reality revealed through obviously Christian character - show/display the proof/evidence/fruit of their relationship with Him through externally visible devotional traits of an invisible commitment such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, humility, and self-control.
Or as a Bible study of maturing Christians once described maturing discipleship in a way that may horrify grammar police while remaining true to Him, "People who are really devoted to Jesus are more better than more worse and wanting and praying to be more better as soon as they really get it/Him."
That movement from a religion about Jesus to a relationship with Jesus is transforming: "It is no longer I who live but it is Jesus who lives in and through me."
That movement from a religion about Jesus to a relationship with Jesus transforms anyone deciding to make that movement into a Christian or "little" version of Jesus.
So while Paul would never affirm works righteousness or working one's way into heaven by good deeds, he makes it very clear in this letter that righteous works are the hallmark of people who are right with Him: "...justified...[just as if we had never sinned aka saved]...by faith...expressing itself through love."
Consequently, in a few words in the letter that were not thrown in but rather highlighted to emphasize the importance of walking Christianity as we talk about Christianity, Paul says he and all authentics "remember the poor, the very thing I/we was/are eager to do" (read Matthew 25 for more on that).
Summarily, "Neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation..."
Paul got it from Jesus: "If you love Me, you will do what I say."
Talk without walk is religion.
Talk with walk confirms the relationship; and the blessing: "...as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them."
So while heaven will be the best forever, it can be heavenly here and now in, through, and for Him.
...to be continued...
Blessings and Love!