“Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?” Galatians 3:3
Every now and then, I come across a passage in the Bible and it’s as if I’m reading it for the very first time. Those are the moments I live for… when the Word of God comes alive in a very real and personal way.
This morning was one of those moments. I read St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians and even though I’ve probably read those words hundreds of times, today was something special. It finally clicked!
First things first, as I mentioned above, I read St. Paul’s epistle to the Galatians (epistle = letter). The whole thing. Not a chapter, not a set of verses…THE ENTIRE LETTER!
Now that may seem daunting at first but let me tell you that if you want to make more sense of the Bible – especially the epistles/letters – you need to try reading them in larger chunks. In other words, when possible don’t read a chapter from Galatians or a chapter from James or a chapter from Hebrews…READ THE WHOLE THING!
Why? Because that’s how they were written. They were written as letters from one person (Paul) to a group of people (the believers in a city called Galatia). The letters weren’t meant to be read in chapters and verses (imagine if I wrote you a four page letter and you decided to read one paragraph a day for 12 days – not quite the same is it?); they were meant to be read as a whole.
So anyway, I was reading the letter to the Galatians this morning and I came across several verses that spoke about the WORKS OF THE LAW vs GRACE THROUGH FAITH.
“…knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.” Galatians 2:16
“I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.” Galatians 2:21
“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love.” Galatians 5:6
Like most churchgoing Christians, I’ve always understood these passages to mean that we can do nothing to earn salvation. It’s a gift of God’s grace given to all who believe, and who live out that belief. We can’t earn God’s favor or His kingdom in any way; if we could have earned it, the Law of Moses would have been sufficient. In other words, we wouldn’t have a need for Christ.
So far so good. Sounds simple enough, right?
But do you really believe that? Do you really live your life as if you CAN'T earn salvation? I mean, let’s be honest. If you’re a “spiritual” person (whatever that means), I’ll bet you spend a lot of your spiritual energy trying to earn God’s favor and grace.
“I gotta stop this sin so I can get right with God…” “I gotta fix this bad habit so I can be ready for Christmas…” “I gotta read my Bible more so God doesn’t get upset at me…”
That’s how we think isn’t it? We're extremely “works-based” in our thinking, whether we admit it or not. We think in terms of “I need to DO this” or “stop DOING that” in order to be right with God.
But listen to what St. Paul says to the Galatians who started to think this way too:
“This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?” Galatians 3:2-3
Let’s look at that passage in another translation of the Bible – the FAV translation (Father Anthony Version – my personal favorite):
Answer me just one question my dear brothers and sisters in Galatia: when you started your relationship with God…when you were baptized into the faith…when you became children of the Most High God…WAS IT BECAUSE YOU WERE DOING EVERYTHING RIGHT?
Did He choose you because you had fulfilled all the requirements of the Law? Or was it because you believed in Him and accepted Him to be your Father?
And when God poured forth His Spirit upon you, did He do so because you “earned” it? Or did He do so because He knew that you could never earn it?
So then my brothers and sisters, if faith has gotten you this far, why now do you revert back to your old ways of trying to earn it? Why now do you think that God will love you any less because you fell short of your goal? Or because you couldn’t keep the promise that you made to Him? Do you really think that He’ll somehow love you more if you meet that standard in your mind?
Why have YOUR WORKS become bigger than HIS GRACE?
Foolish Galatians! It’s not by your deeds that you will be perfected, by rather by God’s grace working through your faith.
WHAT A MESSAGE!
Of course, doing good deeds is a good thing and Paul gets into that in chapters 5 & 6 when he speaks about “faith WORKING in love.” But that’s not our topic today.
Today the message is simple. STOP TRYING TO EARN GOD’S FAVOR! You can’t do it. Nothing you can do can merit the grace of God. And on top of that (here’s the real eye opener), attempting to earn it actually causes you to lose it!
“You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.” Galatians 5:4
WOW! That’s the part that never hit me till this morning. Not only is it impossible to earn God’s grace by your favor, but the more you try, the further you’re actually getting.
A powerful, eye opening message that I really needed this morning and my guess is that someone out there does as well. I’m gonna close with a prayer for today instead of a discussion question (but I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section if you have any).
"Dear Heavenly Father, thank You for loving us infinitely more than we deserve. Your love isn’t something we could ever earn or merit – no matter how hard we tried and how “good” we are. Please open our eyes to understand Your ways more and more every day, as we seek to be perfected only by Your grace and never by our works."