God's promises matter more than your deeds

by Kyle
published March 5, 2014


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I am so glad I am not from Galatia.

No book of the New Testament is quite as harsh or chastising as Paul’s letter to the Galatians.

Paul begins Chapter 3 by calling them “You foolish Galatians!” The Greek word there comes from the Greek word for using your mind, thinking, comprehending or understanding. But he puts the letter alpha in front of the word, the same way we would put “un” in front of “intelligent.” Paul basically calls them stupid for believing what they have come to believe about the Christian life.

Paul’s chief complaint was that the church in Galatia had begun following a teacher or group of teachers from a sect scholars today call “Judaizers.” This group claimed that gentiles (read: non-Jews) first had to convert to Judaism before they could become Christians. They believed in order to be saved men should be circumcised and that both men and women had to keep a kosher diet and observe all the ritual practices of the Old Testament.

These ritual practices even included requirements for doing laundry.

I’m not kidding.

Leviticus 13:47-59 governs the way in which Israelites were required to cleanse their clothes from mildew. The Judaizers held that people who did not first commit to Old Testament laws, even the regulations concerning mildew, could not be saved.

If you think about it, though, this is an attractive message. This is the message, really, of every other religion on Earth: “If you do [insert list of behaviors and standards no person could possibly live up to consistently and perfectly], then God, the divine energy or the karmic universe will be pleased and accept you.”

That isn’t the message of Christianity, though. Paul gets so upset with the Galatians because though they once understood the core message of the gospel, they had turned away from the thing that makes following Christ different and holy — that Christian life is not about making a promise to do something for God. It’s about God making a promise to do something for you.

Read that again.

The Christian life is not about you making a promise to do something for God. It’s about God making a promise to do something for you.

So it makes little sense, then, for people who once were saved by the work of God to then think they needed to rely on the work of their own hands to earn continued approval from God. That’s exactly what Paul means when he says, “Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” Do you really think you can add to the already completed work of God?

The core problem with the theology of the Judaizers is that they believed the Law (God’s list of “thou shalt’s” and “thou shalt not’s”) was given for them to be pleasing to God when, instead, God gave it to show how we aren’t and through our own effort, can never be pleasing and acceptable to God. In Romans 7:8-11, Paul makes the case that the Law’s purpose is not to cause us to sin, nor to lead us to righteousness, but instead to show us our sin. Remember how James compares the law to a mirror in James 1:23-24. The Law doesn’t save us from who we are, it just shows us who we are.

So what can save us? What can change us? What can give us God’s favor?

Not God’s Law, but God’s promises.

Paul reminds the Galatians that Abraham was not made righteous by anything he did. In fact, Abraham was actually dishonest and a little sketchy. On two occasions, he claimed his Sarah was his sister because he was afraid someone would kill him in order to steal away his beautiful wife. So what Abraham did didn’t make him righteous. What Abraham believed made him righteous. “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” (Galatians 3:6)

So if you try to follow the Law and fail (and everyone fails), then you are cursed (see Galatians 3:10). But, there was one person who was both qualified and willing to take that curse away from you. That’s Christ. Paul quotes Deuteronomy 21:23, which says, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.” (Read: a cross.) Christ took on our curse for us because he alone was able to bear it and still live. Christ took on our curse for us because He promised that we would be blessed. In the very first book of the Bible, God promised Abraham, “All the nations will be blessed in you.” How can there be blessing unless God takes the curse away first?

So if knowing God now and forever “is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise.” The bad news is that you can never earn God’s favor. The good news is that he’ll give it to you for free if you’ll only accept it in Christ. Instead of what you can do, look to what God has promised. God has promised that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Joel 2:32)

Standing on the promises of Christ the Lord,
Bound to Him eternally by love’s strong cord,
Overcoming daily with the Spirit’s sword,
Standing on the promises of God.

What do you think?

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