“How foolish can you be? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?” (Galatians 3:3 NLT)
“So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.” (Galatians 3:24-25 NIV)
I KNOW I CAN DO BETTER THAN THIS.
I can’t believe what I just said; what I just did. That just isn’t me. I mean, I’m more even-tempered than that. I don’t know what came over me. I’m tired, hungry even, certainly stressed by work, family. You know, the usual things.
I can do better than this. I just need to try harder.
Becoming perfect by our individual human effort is the ultimate New Year’s resolution, and, besides, the idea of taking charge is so American, isn’t it? No way are we going to sit back and wish things were different! No, siree! We’re going to do something about it!
Buck up … and try harder.
Despite our best intentions, the outcome of our self-help promises are just as predictable as the rest of our resolutions. After a few tries, with diminishing enthusiasm, we give up.
Maybe we’ll try later, give it another go over the summer or maybe just wait until the following year. We aren’t really quitting, we tell ourselves. We’re delaying our effort. The timing just wasn’t right.
THE APOSTLE PAUL must have felt the same way with the church in Galatia.
We can see his frustration when he saw those new Christians backsliding. One massive New Year’s resolution fail, but this time a slipping away from God’s saving grace.
No, this is not a discussion of whether a person can lose his or her salvation, but whether once saved, a person can miss the closeness and love for the Father that comes from a growing and continuing relationship with Him.
Jesus referenced this slipping away in Revelation 2:4 (MSG), when He told the church in Ephesus, “You walked away from your first love.”
That is, a person can remain saved but not progress in his/her spiritual walk with the Lord by remaining in place at the very point where they started their walk, like a newborn who never outgrows diapers or starts crawling.
Paul admonished the church in Corinth along those same lines, when he accused them of not growing in their faith. “I fed you with milk, not solid food,” Paul wrote, “for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready” (1 Corinthians 3:2 ESV).
HOW COULD WE MISS the unmistakeable promise that our Lord and Savior has given us? The great gift of grace! We don’t have to do life on our own. When we accept the Holy Spirit into our hearts, God pours His grace into us and relieves us of the burden and responsibility.
“Come unto Me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest,” Jesus says (Matthew 11:28 MEV).
Okay, so there’s a catch, right? Once we surrender our lives to God, we are “owned” by someone else, required to live up to someone else’s agenda and match their standards.
Yes, absolutely true! The Bible is very clear about that. In 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 ESV, Paul states, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”
According to the Bible, God’s revealed testimony, you always were owned by someone else.
Listen to what Jesus says about that. Here He is in John 8:34 GW: “Jesus answered them, ‘I can guarantee this truth: Whoever lives a sinful life is a slave to sin.’”
Here’s Paul again: “Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living.” (Romans 6:16 NLT)
So, either way, you’re owned, right? Either you’re owned by sin, which leads to death, or you’re owned by righteousness, which leads to life.
You pick. Your choice. God’s gift of free will.
SOMEWHERE, THERE’S THAT VOICE of doubt that whispers, “Maybe not everyone. This cops-and-robbers stuff might affect those people, but surely not me.”
Yes, you and me. Paul tells us in Galatians 3:22a NIV that we’re all engulfed in this sin mess, everyone of us. “But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin.”
Paul doesn’t leave us hanging. Instead, he goes on to tell us that God has provided an escape for us, if we would just trust Him. What is that escape? Well, verse 22 continues with the answer: “so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.”
What was promised?
The promise, as the following verses (23-25) explain, is that we are no longer prisoners under the law but justified (considered righteous) through Jesus Christ. “Now that faith has come,” Paul writes, “we are no longer under the supervision of the law.”
The law was about works, doing the right things and trying to earn God’s favor by our actions. Replacing the law with grace, through Christ’s perfect life, death on the cross, and resurrection means we are recipients of God’s free gift of grace (Romans 3:24).
That was the point Paul was trying to drive home to the struggling Galatians. God, through His mercy, has given you the kingdom through your faith in His Son. Why are you falling back on old habits of trying to merit salvation through your own efforts, when Scripture tells us you are destined to fail … every time?
Better to accept God’s gift of grace through His Son. God reconciles us to Himself and grants us an eternity in His rest.
As we reflect on that gift, we are moved to join Paul in his prayer of praise: “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15 NIV).
PRAYER: O Heavenly Father, Creator of the Universe, Who made us in Your image, we confess we have failed You in our willfulness, striving to earn salvation on our own merits despite the sinful natures of our hearts. Forgive us, O Lord, and change our hearts from hearts filled with anger and lust and pride and sloth and covetousness and treachery and guile, and give us hearts that love the Lord and want to serve only Him. In Jesus’ precious Name we lift this prayer. Amen