Text: Galatians 1, 2, Acts 15
Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ. Galatians 1:10
Unlike his other letters that begin with thanksgiving and prayer for the recipient churches, the letter to the Galatians gets straight to the point with Paul’s emotional expression of astonishment that the Galatians are turning to a different gospel than what they originally heard and accepted. Influential individuals among them are causing a lot of confusion by changing and perverting the gospel of Christ. Paul says he is not willing to be a people-pleaser and he boldly reminds the Galatian believers of his original gospel message to them, a revelation he received directly from Jesus Christ.
Paul qualifies his message saying he did not need the approval of the other apostles in Jerusalem because God called him and revealed Jesus to him personally and directly. It was only later in his faith journey that Paul met Peter and the other apostles and shared with them his call to preach to the Gentiles. At that time, he went to Jerusalem and met with the leaders of the Jewish believers and his call was readily affirmed by them.
Continuing his letter, Paul shares about a time when Peter fell into the same struggle the Galatians are experiencing:
Although Peter was Jewish, he exercised his freedom from the law and ate with Gentiles. But when he visited Antioch, pressure from certain people influenced Peter to give up this freedom. When Paul saw how this hypocrisy negatively impacted Barnabas, he openly confronted Peter and corrected this wrong way of thinking and living. Paul explained that for Jews and Gentiles alike, it is faith in Jesus alone that justifies the believer, not the additional observance of the law. It is an abandoning of the grace of God to seek to fulfil the law in order to be made righteous. If that were true, Christ’s death was for nothing.
Paul was zealous to defend the essence of the gospel message. His life was an extreme example of the transformational power of the true revelation of Jesus. Paul knew none of his former efforts to fulfill Jewish Torah laws, no matter how passionately pursued, could earn him a status of righteousness before God. It was only the perfection of Jesus’ life and his sacrificial death that enabled Paul to be justified and made righteous before God. At his conversion on the road to Damascus, Paul humbly set aside the idea that he could do anything to earn God’s favour. It was only through what Jesus did that Paul was able to come into approval with God.
As he confronts false teaching by writing this letter to the Galatian churches, Paul’s identity in Jesus gives him boldness to face rejection from people. He models for the believers the very truth he communicates: do not nullify God’s grace by falling into the practice of people-pleasing, instead stand firm in your identity of being approved by God through your faith in Jesus.
By accommodating persuasive false teachers and entertaining their ideas, the Galatians have fallen into people-pleasing instead of fearing God and living in the fullness of the gospel. The pressure to perform any particular part of Jewish Torah law was actually changing the truth of the gospel message they originally received. It was only their identity in Jesus, his righteousness that justified them, not any sort of work they could do to be made more right with God; the costly price of Jesus’ death was enough. The believer does not need anything else to be made right with God--so, they need to resist and reject the pressure from false teachers saying otherwise.
Paul understood the influence other people can have on our sense of acceptance, identity and belonging. Even Peter, the “rock”, fell into wrong thinking and living because he prioritized what people would think about him if he exercised his freedom, bought by the precious blood of Jesus.
The key to resisting false teaching and wrong living perpetrated by influential people is to stand firmly in our identity as being fully approved by God—this grace won for us by Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. When we understand the richness of our relationship with God, that we have his full favour and approval, we will not fall victim to the fear of man or the fear of rejection that manifests as people-pleasing.
Reflect: What sort of pressures do you face in today’s culture? Are you prone to people-pleasing? How does today’s reading challenge you? What are some ways you can practically lean into God’s approval?
Pray: Precious Jesus, thank you for the sacrifice you made to buy my freedom and to restore my relationship to Father God. Thank you for your Holy Spirit that empowers me to live a life pleasing to you. Teach me more about why your approval of me trumps everything else. Help me to bask in your delight of me instead of falling victim to the pressures and influences of this world. Amen.
In 2023, each week's blog is a follow-up reflection written by the preceding Sunday’s preacher to dig deeper into the sermon topic and explore engaging discussion questions.