Though I shouldn’t be, I am often amazed at how quickly preferences and legalism hijack the message and thrust of the Gospel in our churches. I have been a musician and worship leader in some capacity for more than two decades now. It may be that the worship wars are waning but the remaining and stubborn skirmishes of the aftermath are still every bit as frustrating. Most of us involved in church ministry during the Covid quarantines and adjustments are increasingly aware that the stakes are higher than ever for churches seeking to champion the Gospel, edify the saints and win souls. Recently I read the last chapter of Galatians with new eyes and it really galvanized my resolve for the future.
Verse 12 of the last chapter was particularly arresting:
“Those who want to make a good impression in the flesh are the ones who would compel you to be circumcised— but only to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ.” Galatians 6:12 CSB (Emphasis mine)
Paul is here speaking of the Judaizing elements in the church who were insisting on having new converts to Christ keep various elements of Jewish ritual and tradition as a condition of their salvation. He goes on in verse 13 to tell the Galatians that the Judaizers don’t even keep the law themselves but they want the Galatian believers to be circumcised that they might brag on the high circumcision rates of the Galatian church. (Seemingly a strange thing to boast about indeed!)
The judaizing elements in the church were elevating an outward rite to the level of importance of the Gospel. Paul strikes a stark contrast in verse 14:
“But as for me, I will never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. The world has been crucified to me through the cross, and I to the world.” Galatians 6:14 CSB
Paul is making it very clear here that the death and resurrection of Christ, the Gospel was the only thing he would boast in.
Prior to Covid 19, I wonder how many carnal or temporal things our local churches boasted in. Perhaps your church has an amazing traditional music ministry or a state of the art modern one. Perhaps you’ve met in the same Sunday school class for decades with the same people or you’ve recently joined a community or neighborhood small group that is quickly growing. Maybe your church is trying to figure out the best strategy for corporate gatherings going forward that look or sound a little different than you are accustomed to. May it never be that we settle for surface features as a bragging point. The world is hurting. The world doesn’t need First Baptist Church of 1985 or the coolest church in town. The world needs the Gospel.
Beloved, in this polarized and fractured world we need to be a church that is radically and visibly devoted to the Gospel and Gospel-centered unity above all else. Paul says in verse 15, “For both circumcision and and uncircumcision mean nothing; what matters instead is a new creation.” This new creation shouldn’t be married to methods or outward appearances but rather the indwelling, unifying presence of our Savior. I recently heard it said that mature believers are easily edified and immature believers are hard to please and easy to offend. It is time— perhaps beyond time for us to lift our standard.
Paul speaks a blessing over people who use the Gospel as the standard in verse 16 when he says, “May peace come to all who follow this standard, and mercy even to the Israel of God.” We often spend lots of time and energy satisfying and pacifying immature and selfish believers when we should be ever sacrificing for unbelievers and working toward edifying the saints in the Gospel to disciple them to be sacrificing for the edification of those who will come behind them. I don’t know exactly what the coming months and years are going to look like for our churches but I know Jesus is still king. May our days and efforts be marked by overt Gospel-centeredness. May we live by a Gospel standard.
Herbert is a believer in Jesus Christ who is overwhelmed by the riches of the Gospel, the husband of April and the father of Cadence, Imani and Angel. He also serves as the worship pastor for the great Wallace Memorial Baptist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. He has been serving in full time ministry for more than five years and was a public school music educator for twelve years prior to that. He loves deep philosophical conversation, barbecue and golf even though he stinks at it.