Any Christian who looks down on members of another faith or looks down on anyone because of sins that he or she has committed misses the point of Paul’s understanding of Jesus. Paul does not see himself as preaching a new world religion meant as superior to other religions. Paul sees himself as proclaiming God’s saving act for humanity. Those who receive this gift do not do so because of any innate intellectual superiority, social status, or moral merit (Rom. 3:23; 1 Cor. 1:23-29), and certainly not on the basis of ethnic superiority (Gal. 3:28). Rather than envisioning themselves as superior to others, those who truly trust in Jesus should welcome others and share with others the astonishingly good news of this unmerited gift in Christ that they themselves have experienced.
Truly following Jesus is not about finding ways to establish our status over nonbelievers, still less about establishing it over fellow believers (whether because of our subsequent spiritual experiences, correct doctrine, or cultural values). It is about God’s gracious invasion of undeserving humanity with an opportunity to be brought back to right relationship with him, an invitation that cost God the death of his own Son. When we embrace God’s grace rather than insisting on our own worthiness, we can freely offer others secure hope without regard to their own prior status before God.
In a relativistic context that renders all beliefs equivalent, even such an offer may sound arrogant, as if Christians alone have the truth. This offense was felt no less in Paul’s day: a polytheistic world found Jewish monotheism intolerant, and Christian insistence on Jesus as the only way to Jews’ one true God (e.g., John 14:6; Acts 4:12; Gal. 2:21) as more intolerant still. But relativism that makes itself an absolute is philosophically self-defeating, and in effect neuters the claims not only of the Christian faith but of all religious movements that claim any absolutes.
For Paul, faith in Jesus was an intellectual demand as well as the welcoming of a gift. It was not additional insurance for the afterlife just in case it was true; genuine faith in Jesus demanded the abandonment of other gods (Gal.5:20; 1 Cor. 5:10-11; 6:9; 8:1-10; 10;7, 14; 2 Cor. 6:16; 1 Thess. 1:9; cf. Acts 14:15; 17:29-30). It invites us to abandon faith in ourselves as well. We stake our lives, both in this age and the next, completely on God’s gift in Jesus Christ.
This content is by Craig Keener, but edited and posted by Defenders Media.
For more on the book of Galatians, please check out Galatians: A Commentary.