In the first article of this series, I discussed the context of Paul’s remarks about his gospel-friendship with the Galatians in Gal. 4:12-20. I argued when Paul was with the Galatians, they received his gospel and became his friends in Christ. Paul states the proof of this assertion was the Galatians received him as a messenger from God in the same manner as they would have received Jesus Christ himself when he preached the gospel to them, although he suffered in his flesh likely because of the gospel (Gal. 4:13-14; cf. 2 Cor. 12:7-10). They didn’t mistreat him, despise him, or shame him because of his suffering (Gal. 4:14). They loved him to the point that Paul hyperbolically says they would have even given him their very own eyes “if it were possible” (Gal. 4:16).
However, after Paul left Galatia, trouble-making teachers entered into the churches of Galatia preaching a message contrary to Paul’s gospel (cf. Gal. 1:6-9). Instead of standing fast in their faith in the gospel Paul received from God and from Jesus and preached to them (Gal. 1:1, 15-16), the Galatians were turning “so quickly” from God who called them by Christ’s grace to this “other” and distorted gospel (Gal. 1:6-7). When Paul asks the Galatians whether has he become their enemy because he speaks the gospel truth to them (Gal. 4:16; see also Gal. 2:5, 14; 5:7), he describes their turn from his gospel to a distorted gospel as former friends in the gospel now becoming enemies (Gal. 4:12-20).
Paul’s question about his gospel and friendship with the Galatians in Gal. 4:16 is applicable today. While many of us who profess faith in Christ believe the same gospel, profess faith in the same Christ, profess to believe the same core doctrinal and theological truths of the faith, are members of the same denominations, and even attend the same churches, some of us too often unfortunately treat one another with suspicion and even hatred when we disagree with one another, when we have difficult but necessary gospel conversations with one another, or when we speak the truth of the gospel to one another in love.
To be clear, certainly trust is something earned over the course of much time. Friendships in the gospel are not made over night. Once trust has been broken between friends, those friends may never trust one another again or at least it may take a long time before they can again trust each other. And, quite frankly, not every person who professes faith in Christ is deserving of trust if he or she proves himself or herself over and over again to be untrustworthy. Jesus himself did not entrust himself to any person because he knew what was in humans (John 2:25). Thus, Christians must always exercise wisdom and discernment before we trust anyone, and we must use wisdom and discernment to decide whether we should trust someone again once they’ve broken our trust.
My point, however, is this: while some of us who profess faith in Christ claim to love the gospel, too often we live in clear disobedience to the gospel when we treat one other as enemies of the faith when we disagree. Instead of walking in the Spirit and pursuing one another in Spirit-empowered love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, mercy, compassion, kindness, and with self-control (Gal. 5:22-23), too often some who profess Christ choose rather to backbite, devour, and destroy one another in our churches and on social media before a watching world to see (Gal. 5:24-26).
No one of us who professes faith in Christ is perfect. We all fall short in our obedience to Jesus and his gospel, because we are all sinners (Rom. 3:23). We all need the Spirit to help us walk in the Spirit and to resist pursuing whatever fleshly desires we want (Gal. 5:16-26). We all need to repent of the many ways in which we all sin and fall short of God’s glory in many matters related to basic Christian obedience (Rom. 3:23; 1 John 1:8-2:2)!
Still, those of us who profess love for and a commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ, a gospel that centers on Jesus’ sacrificial cross and resurrection (1 Cor. 15:1-8), must regularly ask ourselves the following urgent questions: If Jesus died to reconcile sinners to God and to one another (Eph. 2:11-3:10), if Jesus died to reconcile all things to himself in the cosmos through his cross as he put all earthly and demonic rulers to public shame by triumphing over them through his death and resurrection (Col. 1:20-23; 2:13-15), if Jesus prayed for his disciples to be one as he is one (John 17), if Jesus says the world will know his disciples by our sacrificial love for one another (John 13:1-17; 14:15-15:17), if Jesus teaches us the world hates his disciples (John 15:18-25), and if the New Testament teaches one way Christians know we know God is by our sacrificial love for our fellow Christian brothers and sisters (1 John 2:3-11; 3:11-24), then why do some of us who profess faith in Christ often treat one another as enemies of the gospel in our churches, in society, and on social media? Why do we choose the way of the devil and the way of Cain in our dealings with brothers and sisters in Christ instead of seeking the way of Jesus and his cross (see 1 John 3:7-24)? Why is it so difficult for the world to tell the difference between some of us who profess Christ and those who reject him in our dealings with one another in our churches or on social media?
Every Christian, including and especially me (a chief sinner), needs to ponder seriously these questions and regularly examine our hearts before God to see if Christ is in us (2 Cor. 13:5). Every Christian needs to remind ourselves that faith without works is dead (James 2:17, 26). As one interpreter says, this at least means: “we will not be justified by our works, but we certainly will not be justified without them” (James 2:14-26).
Could it be that some of us who profess to believe the gospel actually walk in darkness; could it be that some of us who profess Christ are liars; could it be that some of us who profess Christ deceive ourselves; could it be that some of us who profess Christ don’t actually have the truth of the gospel in us (1 John 1:6-9)? Could it be that while some of us who profess faith in Christ may claim to preach good sermons and to do good works in the name of Jesus, we might actually hear these dreadful words from the Lord on the Day of Judgment: “Depart from me you workers of lawlessness, for I never knew you,” because we didn’t actually perform the will of our Father in heaven while we lived on earth (ESV Matt. 7:21-23)? Matthew describes the will of the Father to his disciples at least as a faithful pursuit of righteousness as we walk the difficult path of discipleship and live in obedience and total allegiance to Jesus Christ in a pattern of righteousness outlined by King Jesus (see Matt. 5:1-7:27). In fact, Jesus says to his followers, “unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:19).
Jesus says those of us who follow him are enemies of “the world” and that the world will hate us because we love him (John 15:18-25). In Christ, we must love one another and so fulfill the whole law (Gal. 5:13-14). We must bear the burdens of one another and fulfill the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2). No matter how tempting it may be for some of us who profess faith in Christ to be seduced by and to imitate the ways of darkness in our dealings with others who profess Christ, all Christians from every tongue, tribe, people, and nation must walk with one another in “a straightforward manner in the truth of the gospel” (Gal. 2:14; see also Eph. 2:11-3:10). We must love all neighbors as ourselves (Gal. 5:13-14), but especially Christian neighbors (Gal. 5:16, 22-23).
Even when we strongly disagree with each other, Christians should live in the world in a manner worthy of our calling and in a manner worthy of the gospel (Eph. 4:1-5:20; Phil. 1:27). We must live in the world, but we must reject the wicked behavior of the world (1 John 2:15-17). We should “strive side by side” for the hope of the gospel as bright lights in a dark world (Phil. 1:27). We should imitate God and Christ’s love for us toward one another as we seek to serve one another in the gospel (Phil. 2:1-10; see also Eph. 4:1-5:20). Those who profess Christ must also urgently obey “the gospel of God” or else he will judge us with his fierce wrath on the Day of Wrath as those who reject the gospel of his Son (1 Pet. 4:17).
In the current climate of hate and hostility in society and in some of our churches, may those of us who profess Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior and who have the Spirit of God living in our hearts stand as bright lights of the gospel of Jesus Christ to a dark world, as we work out our salvation with fear and trembling in our homes, churches, and communities (Phil. 2:12-13). May God help us to labor to “walk in a manner worthy of our calling with all humility and compassion and with patience as we endure one another in love” because we are brothers and sisters in Christ, even when we disagree, since there’s only “one body, one Spirit, just as we were called to one hope of our calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God,” who is comprehensively sovereign over all things in heaven and on the earth (Eph. 4:1-6; Gal. 5:13-14). May God help us not to grow weary in doing good toward all people, especially to those who are members of the household of faith (Gal. 6:10).
May God help us who profess Christ to “love one another earnestly” because we know that “love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pet. 4:8). May God help us to love our enemies with a wise, discerning, and God-centered, Christ-exalting, and Spirit-empowered love whenever they insult us, slander us, and persecute us, and may he also help us to pray for our enemies wise and thoughtful prayers of repentance, mercy, and justice (Matt. 5:10-11, 43-48; Gal. 5:16, 21). May God help us who profess Christ to preach faithfully, to obey faithfully, and to apply faithfully a big gospel that has the power to save hostile sinners from God’s wrath and to transform enemies of God into reconciled friends in Christ (Rom. 5:8-10; Eph. 2:11-3:10). Lord, please do these things in us and through us for your glory, for the good of your people, for the good of your churches, for the sake of the salvation of the nations, and for the witness of the gospel! Amen!