June 6, 2010 – Characteristics of a Christian Life – Part 1: Holy

text: Galatians 1:11-24
I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the Good News I have spread is not a human message. I didn’t receive it from any person. I wasn’t taught it, but Jesus Christ revealed it to me. You heard about the way I once lived when I followed the Jewish religion. You heard how I violently persecuted God’s church and tried to destroy it. You also heard how I was far ahead of other Jews in my age group in following the Jewish religion. I had become that fanatical for the traditions of my ancestors. But God, who appointed me before I was born and who called me by his kindness, was pleased to show me his Son. He did this so that I would tell people who are not Jewish that his Son is the Good News. When this happened, I didn’t talk it over with any other person. I didn’t even go to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was. Instead, I went to Arabia and then came back to Damascus. Then, three years later I went to Jerusalem to become personally acquainted with Cephas. I stayed with him for fifteen days. I didn’t see any other apostle. I only saw James, the Lord’s brother. (God is my witness that what I’m writing is not a lie.) Then I went to the regions of Syria and Cilicia. The churches of Christ in Judea didn’t know me personally. The only thing they had heard was this: “The man who persecuted us is now spreading the faith that he once tried to destroy.” So they praised God for what had happened to me. [God’s Word Translation]

I am preparing a preaching series for June that will explore the characteristics of the Christian lifestyle as reflected in Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia. When Paul writes this letter to encourage the Galatians he describes a lifestyle that is holy, faithful, equal, and free. This week we examine holy.

Galatia was a region located in the central area of what is now Turkey. It was likely settled by Celts from central Europe. The Celts were polytheistic pagans, as where most Gentiles in the first century. Apparently, Paul was forced to stay in that region for a time during one of his missionary journeys because of an illness – perhaps involving his eyes [remember the blindness and the scales that fell from his eyes as a part of his conversion experience].

While Paul was being cared for by the Galatians – possibly including Luke, the physician – Paul did what Paul does. He preached the Good News of Jesus Christ. Many Galatians heard his preaching and teaching and came to faith in Jesus Christ. They received the Holy Spirit and began to form faith communities.

In the years that followed Paul’s time there, two things began to happen in the Galatian churches. First, these new Christians had a tendency to drift back into their pagan ways. They continued to honor their Celtic gods and celebrate their Celtic holidays. This would weaken the integrity of the Christian faith that Paul wanted to see them practice.

Second, some people calling themselves apostles came to Galatia telling the faith communities there that they were doing everything wrong. These were Jewish Christians who taught that Gentiles had to become Jewish and follow Jewish law before they could become Christians. Today we call these people Judaizers. Paul says that these Judaizers are preaching a different Gospel than the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He goes so far as to say that if a Christian relies on the law for salvation, then Christ’s death would be pointless.

Paul writes this letter to the churches of Galatia to reveal the false teachings that they have adopted and to encourage them to hold on to the practice of faith that he originally taught them. To do this Paul must first reaffirm his identity and authority as an Apostle of Jesus Christ.

All of that is just general background. Now we get into the specifics of this week’s text.

In this passage, Paul writes that he was appointed by God and that his message is not influenced by anyone other than Jesus Christ. In this sense, Paul is holy. To be holy or sacred is to be set apart for the service of God. Paul was set apart by God – even limiting his contact with other Christian leaders – so that the message he preached would be pure. For Paul, the Gospel of Jesus Christ could not be compromised by civil or cultural practices or by other religious – especially pagan – beliefs.

In the same way, the Christian life is holy – set apart by God. Our lives are a proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ and should always be set apart – the message should be clear and pure.

When I think about a life that is set apart I think of the monastic lifestyle. These men and women who set themselves apart from the world have held a valuable place in the life of the church through the ages. Living in isolation – free from the influence of culture, society, and other religions – the monastic life becomes an anchor for the beliefs and teachings of the church. Particularly in the Middle Ages, when a poorly educated general population was heavily influenced by superstition, it was the monasteries and convents that maintained the integrity of the practice of Christian faith.

However, we must live in the world. So the challenge for us as disciples today is to be holy. We must be careful to prevent the practice of our faith from being compromised by the influences of culture and society. Rather, our life in the world should be influenced by our practice of faith. May our Christian life be holy – that in our lives the Good News of Jesus Christ may be clear and pure.

Grace & Peace, Pastor Rik

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4 Responses to June 6, 2010 – Characteristics of a Christian Life – Part 1: Holy

  1. Wenda Singer says:

    Isolated from all others, what someone might consider “pure” could actually be ignorant. I’m interested in a fuller description of “pure.” Scripture, reason, experience, and tradition – do they not inform “pure”? (The Wesleyan concept of quadrilateral makes sense to me.)

    • By “pure” I mean a message that is not contaminated by external influences. Perhaps there is a better word for that. For Paul, it was a direct revelation from Jesus Christ. For us, it certainly can include scripture, tradition, experience, and reason since those are the mechanisms through which the revelation is transmitted to us through the ages.

  2. Anna Reager says:

    My challenge may be akin to Wenda’s in the definition of pure, and the monastic life’s being the explication of the beliefs and “the way” of the church. As you said, we must live in the world and our lives should be influenced by our faith. How do we avoid the trap of cultural relativism, saying, “My response in the modern world will be thus and so, because this situation would not have existed in Paul’s time or Jesus’ time.” I am not living in monastic isolation and “holy” can seem to be a moving target. I am not looking for a holiness litmus test or a cut and dried map to salvation, but how do we (I) answer the daily questions/challenges so that we reflect the influence of our faith?

    • I don’t pretend to offer any simple answer to the challenge of holy living and perhaps I confused the issue by using the term “pure”. I do not mean to equate “holy” with “pure”. Holy – or set apart – is a choice we make in response to God’s call on our lives. Purity – spiritual or otherwise – while a goal of holy living, can only come about by the grace of God. Our lives are set apart for the service of God – as imperfect or impure as we may be. It is the Good News of Jesus Christ that we want to remain pure – or true and clear.

      Since we must live in the world, perhaps John Wesley’s teaching about scripture, tradition, experience, and reason can be helpful, as Wenda had suggested. Perhaps one step toward avoiding cultural relativism is striking a balance between the experience of the community of faith [scripture and tradition] and personal experience [experience and reason] – especially when that personal experience is informed by spiritual discipline and nurtured in the life of the church.

      I imagine all of this would have been easier for Paul – since he literally wrote the book on holy living. For us today, it requires a faithful effort to love God and love each other – but that may be jumping ahead a week.

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