Thoughts on the passage:
There are 613 laws in the Old Testament. They range from the big ones, like honoring your father and mother, to little ones, like what to do with the mildew in your house. (Leviticus 13:47-59) Following these laws is complicated since we are always looking for nuance, even for things such as thou shalt not kill or thou shall not commit adultery. (Matthew 5:27-28) Despite these complications, there is something comforting about the laws because they give us a clear set of directions. They tell us what to do. While Paul uses language like being a slave to the law, it is a form of slavery I think most of us are ready to accept.
What makes following the laws so appealing? Following the laws gives us order in our lives. Following the laws gives us a sense of control. Within the laws we know what is right and what is wrong. When we follow the laws we can feel good because we know that we are obeying God. Following the laws can also give us a sense of power. With the laws we have a way to judge ourselves and to judge others. The appeal to me comes from a sense of order, a sense of control, and a sense of power.
Unfortunately, those are not what we are supposed to be feeling as Christians. As Christians we are meant to give up order, give up power, and give up control. In Christ the first are last and the last are first. Christ eats with tax collectors and sinners. He speaks with women and outcasts, heals on the Sabbath and overturns the tables we have erected to bring order to our faith. Being a Christian is about surrender to God.
Following the laws had a lot of appeal to the church in Galatia. For people of the Jewish faith, the laws gave a sense of being and direction for how to live. It was by following the laws that a person could be thought righteous. It was by following the laws that a person could be faithful to the covenant with God. The idea that people could be Christians without following the laws was inconceivable because it was through the law that they understood faithfulness to God.
Paul turns all of this on its head. First he reminds us that none of us are faithful to God. Like the disciples, who all turn and flee, we all turn from God at some point. We do it when we lie, steal, and kill. We do it when we respond with anger instead of love to our neighbors. We do it when we turn a blind eye to the least, the lost, the left out. We do it because we are human and we are not perfect. For one reason or another all of us fall short. We cannot be faithful under the law.
A common mistake that we make as Christians is to replace faith in the law with faith in Christ. We have probably heard it said before that all we need to do is believe in Christ. All we need to do is to have faith in God. If we just have faith, if we just believe, then we can be saved. It sounds good and it sounds easy, but it is not enough. It is never enough. All we are doing is replacing one set of actions with another. We are replacing following the laws with following Christ. Following Christ is good, but it does not get us to salvation. The disciples followed Christ, but even for them it was not enough.
What Paul reminds us of in this passage is that nothing we do is enough. It is Christ alone who saves us. It is not because of the faith we have in God that we are saved. It is because of the faithfulness of Christ. It is the faithfulness that allowed him to suffer death on the cross and still remain obedient to God. It is the faithfulness that he has for the world, that in spite of what we do to him, and to his children, he still loves us and is still willing to die for us that we might have new life in him.
We are meant to live lives of faith. We are meant to be faithful to God and to follow God’s commandment to love God, our neighbor, and ourselves. We are meant to do all of these things, not because if we do them we will be saved. We are meant to do them because we ARE saved. The salvation comes from Christ and Christ alone. We are all recipients of God’s grace. Whether or not we are Jews or Gentiles, we are saved.
Like Paul, we have been given a new life in Christ. Like Paul, I think we are meant to do all we can to honor Christ with that new life. Our salvation is not merited; it can never be earned. It is this gift that God gives freely to us. How are we going to use the freedom God gives us to faithfully follow God, each and every day?
Questions to Ponder:
Do you do better with rules and structure or with loose guidelines?
How do you experience God’s grace in your life?
What can you do to accept God’s grace and live a better life because of it?
O God, when we turn away, you are still there. When we fall short of your laws, you still love us. When we are unable to embrace your children, to love as you have loved, and to do your will, you are still with us. We give you thanks, O God, for your grace that we have never earned and yet you offer to us each and every day. Amen