Monday, August 31, 2020

Galatians and Righteousness (1) Different Focus

In the letters to Ephesians and Colossians, there is hardly any mention of righteousness. The focus is on Jesus’ victory over the powers of evil by his death, resurrection and ascension, and the grace and deliverance we received through being united with him. This focus is not surprising, because I suspect it is Paul’s core message.

Paul begins his letter to the Galatians with a similar message.

Jesus the Messiah, our Lord, gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father (Gal 1:3-4).
Prior to his coming the world was enslaved under the powers of the world (Gal 4:3). God sent Jesus to rescue and redeem us.

Righteousness is a major theme in Paul’s letters to the Galatians and to Romans (mostly in chapters 2-4). The reason for the different focus it that these letters were written to churches that were being led astray by Jewish Christians who wanted to impose some of the cultural requirements of the law on Gentile believers.

The Jewish Christians who came to Galatia seemed to be obsessed with righteousness. For some reason, they wanted to be declared righteous before God. This does not seem to have been a natural concern for Paul. Rather, he had to deal with the issue of righteousness, because believers were confused about it. In Romans 5 and 6, Paul explains that we are delivered from sin to become servants of righteousness (Rom 6:16-19). That deliverance is important for Paul.

Paul wrote his letter to the Galatians in response to teachers from Jerusalem, who were telling Gentile Christians that they needed to submit to some of the requirements of the Jewish law, such as circumcision. The followers of Jesus in Ephesus and Colossae were not being badgered by Jewish Christians to demonstrate their righteousness, so the letters Paul wrote to them focussed on the victory and deliverance provided by Jesus.

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