Blog Post 41: The Law and Faith in Christ (Gal 3-4)
A very frustrated Paul is writing to his Galatian audience over their impending rejection of the grace of Jesus Christ by listening to those who preach salvation by works. “How foolish can you be? After starting your new lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?” He insists that the law is of no use in bringing anyone closer to God and goes on to explain that “… those who depend on the law to make them right before God are under his curse, for the Scriptures say, “Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the law and commands that are written in God’s Book of the Law.””
He emphasizes his point by showing that God initiated His covenant with Abraham by promise and not by law, and Abraham was the forefather of Israel. The purpose of the law is here explained as both a guardian and a means by which the sins of all those who are under it have been revealed. Jesus, Paul explains, was the one who came and liberated those captive to the law of sin and death, and now they ought to live in Christ. He urges them to remember that “now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are His child, God has made you his heir.”
Paul goes on to express concern for the souls of these wayward Galatians, reminding them that they were once slaves before they received Christ and not to return to that same slavery. He draws parallels between them and the two sons of Abraham, Isaac and Ishmael. Ishmael was born of a slave and his descendants continue on in slavery. Paul says that those who are in Christ have been born again and not into slavery but freedom in Christ.
A lot of these two chapters is fairly straight forward and clear in its message, but it’s worth repeating once again here that we are not slaves to anyone or anything once we are in Christ, so we ought to live like it. Paul is desperate here to keep the Galatians on track with the truth of the Gospel, that the entire point of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection was to break the power of sin and death, fulfill the law, and bring those under it into union with God Almighty. Basically Paul is saying that if they don’t have that, then they don’t have anything.
It takes a lot of work and depends on Divine Power for sinners to have their eyes opened to their true state, to have stubborn hearts melted and faces turned towards the light. It depends on the Holy Spirit’s irresistible call of grace that breaks through pride and arrogance, drawing sinners home. I personally believe that it is far easier to depend on works – real, tangible things we can do with our hands and heads – to get us into God’s graces, for that requires little in the way of obedience of the heart. If all we had to do was one good deed a day, or to say a certain prayer, or bow in a certain direction to gain salvation then we would feel a lot more confident in our own abilities to save ourselves. That’s what the Galatians have been tempted with, and that is a clear rejection of the Gospel and God’s grace.
For we are saved not by the words of our mouths or the works of our hands but by a change of heart and the birth of a new creation within us. We are saved when we humble ourselves and do the unthinkable: actually do what God tells us to do; that is, depend on Him and His work on the cross. When we actually take that leap and dive into His hands we can be sure we will be caught. There is nothing that can separate us from the love of God, however we do need to put Him where He belongs, where He wants to be: First and foremost in our lives. If we find ourselves at odds with God or His Body, He is not the problem. The hardest thing to do is to humble ourselves. That’s true now and was true for the Galatians who, I imagine, must have felt much more secure if they were able to procure salvation with their own good deeds and obedience to the law.
Paul, however, calls both them and us to do better than that. He calls us to acknowledge the superiority and sovereignty of God in every aspect of our lives and to not humble ourselves once but, just as Jesus Christ the Son of God, empty ourselves for the sake of others.
Application and Question -
But what does that mean? One of the hardest things to do when someone is struggling with sin, addiction, or any other sort of unhealthy situation is trying to get them to recognize that they are indeed enslaved to something dangerous and harmful. There comes a time when debate and discussion are of no more use. It is no longer a matter of the head but of the heart, and nobody can change hearts but God. Paul was desperate for those whose hearts had been changed to not be fooled or led astray. He urges them and us not to submit again to the yoke of slavery from which we were liberated.
We must not be ignorant of the schemes of Satan either who constantly seeks to divide and conquer like a pack of wolves – to isolate members of the church one by one and pick them off, inflating their pride and self-reliance to the point where they are unable to recognize their own sin. It is good to get a reality check now and again, however God requires us not to submit ourselves to Him occasionally and only when we get off track but to live and walk attentively by His side. Psalm 32:9 says “Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you.”
If any of us read the words of Paul in Galatians 3-4 (or even these ones, as I am speaking from Scripture) and believes that you certainly cannot be guilty of arrogance or pride or are blind to your own sin, that you are too well-read, too experienced, too in-the-know to be wrong, rest assured that all these words are levelled directly at you. Paul was desperately concerned with the unity of the church in both letters to the Corinthians and though the reasons for division are different with the Galatians, the same alarm bells are ringing.
The Lord desires us all to act humbly, to live in that humility which we saw exemplified in Christ who gave up His security for the sake of others, that we can recognize when our eyes and ears are leading us astray. Are you preaching salvation by works? Are you dividing the body and isolating yourself? Who or what do you prize most in this entire life? Remember the words of Jesus Christ. If we find ourselves torn between standing up for ourselves and laying our lives down for the sake of the Body of Christ then be comforted, for Luke 14:26-7 says “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”
Christ gave up His life not so that we could take it and go our own ways, but that we would actually, honestly DIE to ourselves, our opinions, our ideas, and LIVE for Him! Heaven forbid we actually do that in this day and age, that we actually step out in faith and burst the bubble of arrogance and pride. Are we serious about the unity of the Body? Thenet us submit ourselves fully to Christ. Those same Galatians who preached the law were sincere, but sincerity is not a mark of truth. “Oh, foolish Galatians! Who has cast an evil spell on you?” Let us no longer be fools but be wise, for the days are evil and few. We must never be found to hinder the work of God. We have been broken out of prison, and the life we had there was no life at all. Let us lay down our life for Christ and live by faith in Him, hating our own lives and sacrificing our comforts and beliefs for the sake of His heavenly Kingdom.
Lord Jesus, thank you for setting us free from the law of sin and death, for opening our eyes and doing for us what we could never have done on our own. Please help us submit in true humility to you and go where you would have us go, never considering ourselves but emptying ourselves for others, that we might work to keep the unity of your Body in faith and works, to the glory of your Holy Name. Amen.
Song: In Christ Alone (Shane & Shane)
In 2023, each week's blog is a follow-up reflection written by the preceding Sunday’s preacher to dig deeper into the sermon topic and explore engaging discussion questions.