We are at a section break in our study of Galatians and it’s hard to believe we are already 2/3 through this book! Galatians can be roughly broken down into three main sections: 1) History: 1:10 – 2:21; 2) Theology: 2:22 – 4:31; 3) Ethics (how should we live?): 5:1 – 6:10. We just concluded chapter 4, wrapping up the theology section. Paul has drawn on theology, history, the Old Testament, Abraham, Moses, faith and law – all in order to defend that justification is by faith, and faith alone. The main point Paul has been seeking to make in this second section can be summarized like this:
God’s plan for sinners to be made right with Him (justified: declared not guilty) has always been through faith in Jesus Christ alone. There is no other way. You can see this going all the way back to the faith of Abraham in the promise of God, centuries before the law. This is the point of the life and death and resurrection of Christ, that through faith in Him, sinners can be justified by God. “We know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.” Gal. 2:21
It is so crucial that this truth occupy the core of our relationship with God, because one step away from the reality of who we are in Christ is a step away from God. And worse, it is a step towards ourselves. Faith connects us to Christ and His work and His accomplishment, His merit and the reward He has earned for us. Faith completely takes us out of the picture and makes our lives and eternity about Christ and wrapped up in Him. Faith shows us that we could never earn this kind of love or grace from God, it is completely free to us! Faith makes Christ the subject of the sentence of our lives.
To turn from faith is to turn to ourselves. To turn from faith in Christ is to turn toward pride in ourselves. We begin to look at our work, at our accomplishments, at our merit and the reward from God that we think we can earn. That is the essence of legalism – thinking we either initiate or maintain our relationship with God through our own obedience to God. This includes not only our obedience to God’s laws, but even our obedience to our own interpretation or application of God’s laws, in the form of systems, routines, or expectations. Faith opens up a path of freedom that realizes that Christ’s is a finished work, to be received, rested in, marveled at and enjoyed. Legalism binds us to the reality that our works, our obedience, our efforts count toward God’s acceptance of us from moment to moment. This is going back to bondage from which the gospel came to set us free!
So here’s the thing: this temptation to drift from simple faith toward legalistic pride is as old as time. The Galatians were getting sucked into it. The gospel was not enough, Christ was not enough, justification by faith was not enough. They were being led to believe they had to add to it all with their own obedience to the law. Paul fought against this distortion of the gospel with the letter we now read and benefit from. Fifteen hundred years later, the one Christian church had drifted away from faith alone into the lie that our efforts contribute to our relationship with God. Through obedience, the proper observance of the 7 sacraments, and even through the purchase of indulgences; God’s acceptance of your life could be moved or manipulated, moment-by-moment. You could therefore never be ultimately sure that you were right with God. The reformers fought against this distortion of the gospel at the cost of their own reputations and lives. And as Christians in the year 2010, we are daily tempted to drift from full trust and rest in Christ and Him alone into the lie that our behavior, our actions, our obedience today affect God’s acceptance of us. Also, that our failures, our disobedience our lack of effort in biblical directions makes God mad at us. This is a lie! And we must fight against this lie in our daily lives.
The astounding news of the gospel of Jesus Christ tells us that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone! This is the gospel Paul preached to his friends in Galatia in order to set them free. This was the rallying cry of the Reformation, setting guilt-ridden peasants free. And this is the good news that will daily set us free from ourselves to rest in, love, worship, live for and be free in Him.
I hope you will live today in the good of the eternal declaration of God over your life, which will never change no matter what you do or don’t do today, which has been secured for you through Christ, which has been made real in you through the Holy Spirit, and which is all yours simply by faith.