“Faith Without Works”
We continue our journey this week through the book of Galatians. The letter, we have discovered, is written by a ticked off Paul who is upset with how the leaders in the church are coming into Galatia and trying to get the people there to change their ways if they want to be considered as Christians. These leaders expect the Galatians to start following certain laws which they think are important in being followers of Jesus Christ. Paul disagrees.
Paul begins the third chapter with bringing the Galatians back to what started it all in the first place. Where did they get their faith? What brought the Holy Spirit in amongst them? Was it of their own actions? Was it there ability to follow rules? Or was it simply listening to what they heard?
And that’s what it was. They heard the testimony of Jesus Christ and they believed. It wasn’t anything else they did, they just believed in Jesus Christ and their lives were changed. So Paul wonders why they are now believing what others are telling them they need to do in order to be faithful followers of Jesus Christ.
We live in a society today where I hear all the time from people, “I’m spiritual, not religious.”
Great! So am I!
For many people today, ‘religion’ is a dirty word. And can you blame them? Look at how the church is being depicted in the news lately! Abuse scandals. Fighting over decisions being made in the church. And what over? Laws and rules. Who can do what where.
So they don’t call themselves religious anymore. They don’t want to have to deal with all the problems in the church today. For them a walk on the beach, a round of golf, working in the yard, these are their spiritual practices. It’s where they feel most connected with whatever they connect with.
By this definition, I agree with them. I am a spiritual person, at times very deeply spiritual (which confused various interview committees as I worked through the process towards being a minister), and I don’t really want to deal with all the infighting in the church. It takes a lot of energy, it saps me of my spiritual strength, and honestly, pulls me back from my relationship with God.
For many people, they associate ‘church’ with ‘rules’.You have to dress a certain way. You have to act a certain way. You sing certain songs. You do certain rituals. All of this, they don’t understand.
For people who seek what they call a ‘spiritual life’, they can’t find it in the church because they end up getting lost in our ‘rules’.
Yes we need a certain amount of rules. We need structure, we need accountability, we need order and good management. Otherwise this place would be a mess with no one knowing what anyone else is doing.
The question then becomes, “Do our rules get in the way of our spirituality?”
I’m not convinced they do here. I don’t know that I can look around our church and say we are overly burdened with rules and expectations that are beyond other churches. In fact I’d say we are a good, laid back congregation, willing to be flexible in our approach to doing things. There are many churches out there who are handcuffed because they are trapped in rules and expectations. So I think we are in pretty good shape in that way.
We are also a very welcoming congregation. We have no problems talking to new people who show up and making them feel welcome.
The question I have is how do new people who come into our doors perceive us?
In our order of worship, does it connect with them? Does it hold any meaning for them. Do they even understand what is happening in our worship service?
Remember, we have a couple of generations of people out there who do not see the church as something significant in their lives. And now, when they decide to take their spiritual lives and attempt to bring some sort of Christian understanding to it, is the church able to meet them where they are?
I believe that as the church we need to continually re-evaluate what we do. Is what we do in our church week meeting the needs of people we wish to engage in our community, the people we wish to share the Gospel message with?
I’m not saying we need to toss out what we have built to this point. There’s always room for what I’ll call ‘alterations’. If you are like me, as I’ve aged things don’t fit quite the same way anymore. I’ve had to look at my life a bit and make some changes to the way I live. I’ve had to get some new clothes. My life has also changed with children as even our parenting duties change as our children grow up and begin school.
So while I am still pretty much the same person, how I live my life has changed a lot in the last 10 years as parts of my own little world change. So I need to keep looking at my activities and evaluating their importance in the list of priorities in my life.
The church needs to be doing the same. We are currently the caretakers of this building and its very rich history like many other churches around the world. A history we need to celebrate and remember. But we cannot let our history dictate our future. We need to look at our practices with a discerning eye as to how God would want us to make effective use of the resources we have. We need to be faithful to the Spirit who called us into this community of faith.
Right now we are beginning to look ahead. We’re investigating replacing our aging sound system with something that will allow us to make use of new technologies in worship. Things that may help us connect with people who struggle to understand the importance of being part of a church community.
Are we going to copy what others are doing? No. We are going to explore ways in which we can enhance the spiritual experiences of people who seek God in this place.
Paul says we need to not be slaves to the Law. He was talking about the old Jewish laws that Moses put in place to protect God’s people from doing things which were not pleasing in God’s eye. To try and keep them set apart and pure until the day Jesus Christ would come. Jesus, the promised offspring from Abraham who would save the world.
We don’t really follow the Mosaic laws today. And Paul lets us know it’s not about those laws anyway. It’s about being faithful, Spirit-led people who follow Jesus Christ. It’s about treating one another equally as part of God’s family.
So, when we look around our church, do we see any old ‘laws’ that we hold onto which may impact people’s ability to follow Jesus Christ? Or even our own ability?
We are the family of God. And it’s really easy to become a member of God’s family, because it’s just about asking God to bring you into His family.
This is Father’s Day. Traditionally the Father of the family is the decision maker, the disciplinarian, the protector, the maker of the rules in the household. The head of the household.
For many people around the world, they struggle in their relationship with their father. While men who take on these traditional roles are just doing what they are being told to do in regards to taking care of their family, for some children they need more. They need the structure, but they also need love.
If you are a father, I want you to also apply the faith vs. law theory to your style of parenting. Think back to your own relationship with your father if you feel you are not making a strong connection to your children. What was it you missed in your dad? Was it a hug? Or maybe hearing “I love you”? Was it a deeper emotional connection to your dad?
Are you making this connection with your own children? Are you being not just a provider but also a relationship with your child?
For those of you who struggle in your relationship with your father today, know that there is a father who loves you deeply. A father who can offer you all that you are missing in your relationship with your biological father. That father is your Father in heaven.
Your heavenly Father wishes you to experience all your needs in Him. He can guide you, protect you, and most importantly He will love you. Far more than anyone on earth can.
Jesus came to show us the way to the Father. He came to teach us about how to experience God and relate to God, and he came to die for us so that we could see how much God loves us. He loves us so much he would sacrifice himself to get closer to us. To save us and to bring us into relationship with Him.
He came to show us it’s more about faith than about following laws. Jesus continually challenged those who were the keepers of the traditions of the church and asked them to simply stop and listen to what God was saying to them right in front of their faces.
God encourages us to drop the walls we have put up around us in what we might see as important rituals and laws we follow and simply experience Him as fully as we can. To be people of faith who can be filled with the Holy Spirit, the love of God our Father, and live lives that glorify Him.