For the past year I have slowly been making my way straight through the New Testament. I’ve read some of these passages a thousand times I feel, but God still makes them fresh for me. And some passages hit me in such a way that I almost feel like I’ve never read them before, even though I’m sure at some point I must have.
Galatians 3: 1-9 is one of those passages. Paul is in the midst of a violent confrontation in his letter, urging the Galatians to hold to the Gospel by which they were saved, and not to believe the lie that they must ALSO, as gentiles (non-Jews), conform to the Jewish Law.
“O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain–if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith–just as Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness? Know then that is is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed.’ So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the main of faith.”
During my recent journey through the Epistles I have become more and more fond of Paul’s use of the rhetorical question. Sometimes you can almost hear him yelling “DUUHHH!!” And I used to think it was pride that drove him to strong language, but now I realize that it was intense LOVE. Love for a people, and a beautiful desire that they should not be led astray from the true Gospel of Jesus, whose salvation is by grace through faith, to a false gospel that teaches that in addition to believing in Jesus, you must also uphold the whole of the Jewish law.
I am so grateful for God’s grace to us in including this book as part of His word. As I have read these verses over the past couple of days I am so encouraged to be reminded that the Spirit who saved me is also continuing a good work in me, so that I may be sanctified. I love Paul’s poignant question in verse 3, “Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” This verse especially is one of the ones that I felt especially stuck by as I read this passages, because I keep thinking that if I had read this verse before, maybe the cure to my perfectionism would have happened sooner. Maybe it will click for one of you.
Having been saved by the Spirit of God, do you now attempt to make YOURSELF into the image of “perfection”, or do you trust that the Spirit that was strong enough to save you from the kingdom of darkness is strong enough also to walk alongside you as you walk alongside him and pursue righteousness out of obedience and love for Christ? This is a practice in humility. It is so easy to say, “Yes God saved me, but I got it from here…” or “Yes God saved me, but that was already too much for him to do for me and now I must try BY MYSELF to get this life right.” We are missing the gift either way. Either our pride tricks us into thinking that salvation was the only assistance we needed from God, or it whispers into our hearts the other side of the lie saying that we must now try to pay back a debt to God, which if we clearly understood the Gospel, we would already know is a laughably impossible task. Either way we are saying, “I can make it. I must make it” and we are PROUD. We are walking away from the true Gospel which is that GOD LOVED US WHILE WE WERE YET SINNERS and He will love us through the struggles of each day and we are fragile creatures WHO CANNOT DO IT ON OUR OWN!
When are we going to really and truly accept that? It seems like death to lay down that pride; I know. I have been there. But let me tell you from the other side; it is life and freedom! The Freedom that Christ set us free for! A freedom to say, “God, I am weak, but you are strong!” And the freedom to let His Glory shine out of every pore and every weak point in our lives. Believe in a God who is big enough to help you with your daily struggle; who loves you and longs for that kind of intimacy in relationship with you. And humble yourself and realize that you are not going to make it in your own strength.
Humility—hummus—earth—dust. Remember where you came from, you are dust. And look to God; who makes the most beautiful things out of dust.