Examples of righteousness (October 22, 2023)

Just as Paul turns to Abraham for an example of God's goodness in Galatians 3, British Hyrams turns to the life Melva Wilson Costen as a personal example.

Outlook Standard Lesson for October 22, 2023
Scripture passage and lesson focus: Galatians 3:1-14

There are some people in my life, beloved family and friends, who love to debate. A robust conversation about different points of view or even the same point of view from diverse perspectives is a source of passion for them. I can hang in there with them for a while, but eventually, they wear me out. However, when the topic is one of crucial importance, giving up is not an option.

The debate in Galatians

In Galatians 3, we see Paul “kick into third gear” on the topic of justification. He is exasperated that Jewish Christians believe the law provides salvation, and his frustration shows in his language in verse 1. He calls Jewish Christians foolish, irrational, thoughtless, or superficial, depending on the translation. Paul will not give up on integrating Jewish and Gentile Christians into one community that claims salvation through Christ alone.

In chapter 3, we can see Paul arguing his point by using a barrage of questions — perhaps hoping one of them will strike a chord in the hearts of the hearers. The final question asks, “Does the God who lavishly provides you with his own presence, his Holy Spirit, working things in your lives you could never do for yourselves, does he do these things because of your strenuous moral striving or because you trust him to do them in you?” (v. 5, The Message).

Repetition is another rhetorical tool in debate, and Paul is certainly racking up the number of times he reinforces this point with the Galatians saying again, “No one is reckoned as righteous before God by the law” (v. 11).

Finally, Paul appeals to an ancestor of the faith – Abraham – to prove his point. The role of Abraham in the history of the faith cannot be overstated. Jesus is the fulfillment of the faith of our church fathers including Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and our church mothers including Sarah, Rebekah, Leah and Rachel. Abraham’s belief in God was credited to him as righteousness, Paul explains. Furthermore, Abraham’s encounter with God happened 430 years before the law (v. 17-18; See Genesis 15)!

The ways that Abraham and Sarah are both faithful and disobedient are laid bare for us to see in the pages of Scripture. Even though the biblical witness shows us their vastly imperfect lives, together they are the blessed, chosen ancestors of the people of God through whom all nations have been blessed. No boxes checked, no I’s dotted, no T’s crossed. Our righteousness is through God alone.

The Communion of Saints

Just as Paul pointed to Abraham’s life to demonstrate God’s goodness, we can look to people in our own lives to see God’s righteousness at work. Just recently, I saw God at work through the life of Melva Wilson Costen, who died on September 8, 2023. Costen’s faith in God was evident in her family, musical genius, and academic fortitude. Those who knew her intimately shared these thoughts with me via email regarding why she was held in such high esteem by Christians far and wide. “She gave us a practical example of what happens when our work informs our call and our call informs our life … She remained unapologetic in seeking to influence inclusion, diversity, and equity in the life of reformed worship,” said Antonio Lawrence. Cecelia Armstrong added, “A mighty oak has fallen, but the branches and acorns are here to continue the work.”

Who are the people in your own life who have exemplified the Christian faith in a manner that elicits your respect and admiration? What have you learned about faith from their lives? What imperfections in their lives are you aware of? Why don’t their imperfections disqualify them from receiving your esteem?

Christianity is about much more than following rules. In life, we value the things that we earn or work hard for; but striving earnestly to follow a set of rules and checking boxes is not the way to go. As Paul, the great debater, has argued valiantly, our justification, our righteousness before God, is through Christ.

Questions for discussion:

  1. Sometimes we have a head knowledge, but it is difficult to put that knowledge into practice. What or who can support you in living a life that is faith-based as opposed to rule-based?
  2. What does a rule-based life look like for you? How does it show up in certain areas?
  3. What does a faith-based life look like for you? How does it show up in other areas?

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