There’s a popular phrase in the southern United States and that is “bless your heart.” It always sounded so very sweet to me when I heard it. Hailing from the northern part of the United States (originally Michigan), I always loved to be around people from the South, I loved to listen to that sweet southern drawl. I thought that everyone from the southern United States was absolutely charming. That was until I moved to the South. I relocated to a small town down south, and it wasn’t long before someone said “bless your heart” to me. Later I would learn that in the south that particular phrase could literally mean bless your heart, as in the sense of sincere affirmation, sympathy, or concern. Or, in my case, it meant “you’re such a clueless idiot.” Upon learning that the reality of that phrase could have a double meaning, it now requires me to examine the speaker’s ulterior motive when they say those words in my direction.
At one time or another we all have ulterior motives. And, we all fall victim to the ulterior motives of others. When we examine the context of the letter that Paul wrote to the Galatians, we’ve come across the phrase Judiazers – meaning Christians who insist that other Christians need to follow the laws of the Jewish faith. In effect, the Gentiles had to become Jewish, so that they could be assured that they were Christian. And to remain Christian, those Gentiles would have to follow all those rules.
Just like when I hear the words “bless your heart,” I can look at this insistence from two different directions. I can assume that those Judiazers meant well, after all Jesus was from their base faith, and they are extrapolating that’s the way Jesus would want the faith to be practiced. Or, perhaps their ulterior motive was something else, such as discouraging these Gentile believers by placing them under the weight of over 600 rules that they would never be able to observe. If the second supposition was true then the Judiazers could discredit the Gentile believers and gain some self-righteous recognition or satisfaction. Perhaps they wanted to keep the new faith sort of as their own private club, with members on the roles who adhered to certain qualifications and paid their dues.
Either way, Paul uses this letter to the Gentile Galatian Christians, to tell them, and in turn us, what Jesus told us. “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36, ESV) Jesus’ sacrifice of himself set us free from the slavery to sin and bondage of legalism that dictates we need to perform works in an attempt to gain favor from God. If you want to be part of God’s club, you need to realize that there’s nothing that we can do to earn our way in, we can’t buy our way in, and we can’t perform acts of service to get into God’s club. To become a member all we ever have to do is believe, have that faith, and join with God. It’s that simple, it’s that easy.
“because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9, ESV)