Knowing Grace

Alaskan iceberg in a lake

Alaskan iceberg in a lake

We can’t throw the Galatians under the bus, at least, not without our fingers crossed. We all struggle with the same issue, don’t we?

We are SO taken with the idea of connecting with God that we endeavor to add to what Jesus Christ accomplished fully on our behalf. The reality that there is nothing we can do to entice God to love us more—or less, for that matter—just begs for us to pile on with human effort.

Second, there is also the harsh reality that when we assemble ourselves together we are intolerant of anything that we think doesn’t look like Christianity—at least, the Christianity contrived in our minds and defined by our own performance. Anyone that doesn’t look right, walk right, speak right, act right, live right, dress right, sing right—oy vey! Anyone or anything that doesn’t fit, we are prone to manage with rules and standards of performance that we believe will make God happier, because if we can manage behavior, we will be happier (we think). Certainly the same must be true of God, we reason.

Never mind Romans 1:17, “The righteous man shall live by faith.” Period. Faith, i.e. complete, utter, full confidence in the work of Christ Jesus on our behalf. This is far too simple and straightforward for our theology, but it is our full theology. If we compromise faith by amalgamating something of our own, we pervert the work of Christ. Hebrews says that in so doing it is as if we crucify Christ again.

In our studies, probably like the Galatians, we teach grace, but in our practice we require law. I mean, without the law how can we ever hope to control our peers?

There’s quite a study within the book of Galatians on the pressure from peers, authorities, and others. Paul unceremoniously calls out Peter who had fallen prey to the Galatians bad theology. He had succumbed to outside pressures—pressures not indicative of what he knew (there’s that word) to be unequivocally true.

Jeepers! I can identify with this struggle also.

I remember one of the college students commenting one evening as we studied, “These principles are important to me, but you (the grown-up in the room) really have to work at these because you live and work in the real world.”

Insightfully, he realized that peer pressure does not go away when you graduate. In fact, he discerned that it only increases. The real world plays for keeps!

The Galatians were caught in the middle between Law and grace, performance for God and the provision of God. They felt obligated and indebted to God, thus inspiring them to attempt repayment. And, they felt pressure from each other to perform.

There is a good verse on this pressure in Colossians 2:8, “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.”

“According to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world.” Tit for tat. Quid pro quo. Yin and Yang. The thing that’s so challenging about grace is that we can’t earn it, repay it, or supplement it. We can only accept it and live from it without edit or addition.

Our focus must be on Christ. The Mosaic Law demonstrated it was incapable of providing life, which we were in need of. It further demonstrates that attempting law’s standard produces frustration, not fulfillment. Only Jesus Christ can supply life and only grace can make life abundant.

Third, I think the Galatians and those trying to influence their thinking were being swayed by the pressure to keep traditions. “It’s the way we do things—the way we have always done things,” we are prone to proclaim.

Many of the things that comprised the traditions of these people were good things. After all, their tradition was tied to the Law and Scripture tells us it was good. The Law just did not possess the power to give life to dead men, nor was it intended for that purpose.

Hebrews 5:11-6:3 paints a clear picture: Christians are to pursue maturity and the deeper things of God. They are to practice honing their discernment skills. They are to leave (not abandon, just move on past) the elementary things of the word—none of which are bad, all of which are good, they are just elementary. It seems that so many of the things that tie us down—entangle is the word used in Hebrews—smack of tradition and religiosity instead of what we know (there’s that word) to be true via Christ Jesus.

You know, just like the Galatians, we have a thorough understanding of what it means to be justified by faith—“justified by faith alone,” as Martin Luther put it—but we lose sight of God’s gift to us in His Son and we try to gain favor with God via some form of law, some form of performance-based acceptance. “What can I do to get God to accept me more/better/completely/without reservation, etc.?” becomes the covert, and many times overt, life-motto for so many Christians.

As you turn over a fresh leaf and make a new start this year, what are the implications—in your life, for you—to what you have just read?

Like the Galatians, we must not let our personal acceptance and right-standing with God be taken captive by the law—any law—whether of men, the church, traditions, society, etc. We are not people of the Mosaic Law or any other law. We are people of grace.

The antidote against amalgamating anything with grace must be continually injected into our bloodstream: Christ must be viewed as the sole Author, Perfector, and Finisher of our faith. You and I bring nothing to the table save our new hearts and deep desire to live as He lives.

Happy New Year to you!