Galatians always poses a challenge – as Paul meant it to. It sounds like someone yelling across the street to warn a careless child against stepping out into traffic: don’t do it! It’s crazy! You’ll get hurt!
But since the ‘child’ in question, and the ‘street’ in question, are both a bit more complicated than that, the letter itself quickly gets more complicated too.
We can see the basic thing Paul wants to say, but we can’t always see, or not so easily, how his fast-paced and agitated arguments contribute to his main point. That’s when you have to sit down with the text and a notebook (or electronic equivalent) and try to figure it all out for yourself. It is one of the most rewarding exercises.
The intellectual challenge is (of course) only one part of it. The ultimate challenge comes to us at the deepest level of our personality: have you really faced up to what it means that ‘the Son of God loved me and gave himself for me’?
Have you, perhaps, subtly avoided thinking what it would mean to live by the rule that ‘those who belong to the Messiah crucified the flesh with its passions and desires’?
Have we, in the western church, really come to terms with the challenge that all who follow Jesus – whatever our ethnic, cultural or moral background – belong at the same table, in the same fellowship? Have we, in other words, really faced up to the glorious reality and the demanding consequences of the utter grace of the One Creator God? That is all there in Galatians.
I have sometimes likened Galatians to the kitchen in my home. It’s a busy room, with too much clutter, too many things going on all at once. You can’t always find what you want straight away. But it’s where things get done. It’s where the family meets. It’s the heart of the home. Galatians is not the only room in the house. It feels untidy, as though someone had forgotten to put the knives and forks away in the proper drawer. But that’s because it’s where things are happening. Urgent things. Things that Christians in tomorrow’s world need to wrestle with.