Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Gospel of Grace

The Completeness of the Gospel of Grace
Galatians 6:11-18
In the climax of this epistle Paul asserts the completeness of the gospel of grace in the "finished work" of Jesus Christ.
©1999 by James A. Fowler. All rights reserved.
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Galatians Series

As Paul began to conclude this pyrographic epistle to the Christians in the churches of Galatia, he took the stylus from the scribe who had been writing what he had been dictating, and penned the final words in his own handwriting. In a summarizing postscript the apostle recaps the central features of the gospel of grace that had been revealed to Him by Jesus Christ Himself. Though the concluding statements of some letters may be filled with a few pleasantries whereby the author "signs off" without any substantial content conveyed, such is not the case with this straightforward epistle of Paul. These words should not be disregarded as but closing courtesies. Rather they are gorged with theological content as Paul provides a synopsis and recapitulation of the Christocentric gospel that had become the essence of his life, and which he wanted to preserve in its dynamic manifestation among the Galatians. H.D. Betz indicates that this autographic postscript is "most important for the interpretation of Galatians," for "it contains the interpretive clues to the understanding of Paul's major concerns in the letter as a whole and should be employed as the hermeneutical key to the intentions of the Apostle."1 As a summarizing synopsis it certainly draws together several of the major themes of the epistle to affirm that the only gospel (cf. 1:6-9) is the vital indwelling dynamic of the life of the risen Lord Jesus Christ by His Spirit enacted by God's grace, serving as the complete realization and fulfillment of God's intent for mankind.

6:18 ­ Paul's final statement of instruction to the Galatians is, "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brethren." Concluding where he began, with a reference to God's grace (1:3,6), as he did in all of his letters, Paul directs them to the divine dynamic of Christ which is the essence of Christianity. Far more than just the "threshold factor" of the Christian life that "gets one in the door to participate in the redemptive benefits of Christ," grace is the essential and comprehensive action of God in Jesus Christ that becomes the entire modus operandi of the Christian life. This has been Paul's argument throughout the epistle ­ that the gospel is the good news of the indwelling action of the living Lord Jesus, rather than legalistic, performance-oriented religion, as advocated by the Judaizers. The Christocentric reality of the risen "Lord Jesus Christ" functioning within our spirit (individually and collectively), manifesting His divine life and character in our behavior, to the glory of God ­ that, my brothers in Christ, is what it means to be a Christian. "Amen." So be it! Let it become the reality in our lives!
In this final paragraph of this "explosive epistle," Paul explodes the last underlying premise of the Judaizers, the proud positing of their privilege as "God's chosen people," identified as "Israel" by racial, national and religious heritage. Paul performs the coup de grace to such thinking by declaring that the completed work of God in the "finished work" of Christ on the cross (6:12,14) makes all things new, the formation of a spiritual "new creation" (6:15) wherein Christians comprise the real community of "Israel" (6:16) allowing God to rule in the Lord Jesus Christ. External ritualistic performances of religion will never make us "God's People," nor effect God's righteousness, for this is only accomplished by the grace (6:18) of God in the "Lord Jesus Christ" (6:14,18).
It is not difficult to see why this epistle has had such an impact throughout Christian history. Properly understood, this epistle will always serve to subvert the inevitable tendency of man to allow the Christian gospel of grace to lapse into legalistic religious performance. The letter to the Galatians is a constant summons to recognize the complete realization and fulfillment of God's intent in Jesus Christ, allowing no supplements or additional requirements. Without a doubt, legalistic, performance-oriented Judaizing elements will always dog the Church of Jesus Christ, but this letter remains a clarion call to the singularity of Jesus Christ as the essence of the gospel. If, as we have conjectured, this is the earliest of the extant letters of the apostle Paul, then the revolutionary reinterpretations that Paul makes in this letter must be regarded as foundational to the interpretations of the remainder of the Pauline writings.

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