Galatians 5

I am a rule keeper. Chalk it up to my Sunday school upbringing or my type A personality, but if there's a rule or a specific process to something, I will stick to it religiously. Unfortunately, much of the time, I think that keeping the rules relies on my own will-power and effort. That also means that, when other people fail or don't measure up to my imaginary standard, my first response is, They just need to try harder.

But this week, Galatians 5 spoke to me, showing me how completely false that idea is. Paul is writing to the believers in Galatia, who have somehow started believing that they need to keep the Jewish law in order to be acceptable to God - and that it was actually possible outside of Christ.

So Paul begins walking the Galatian believers through the basics of faith - Christ set us free to be free, not just to make good people better or to add a religious badge to their shirt. If you obey the law, believing that your own effort will save you, Christ is worthless to you (verse 2). Why would we value Jesus and the perfection he offers if we think we can get there on our own? Thanks, Jesus, I'll take what you offer, but I'm going to earn a few extra points with God by being extra good. Jesus has no value to someone who thinks "being good enough" is possible without Him.

Paul starts talking about heavy words, like bondage and slavery and the law. He understands, as a former Pharisee {uber-religious dude} himself, that relying on our own efforts and a list of do's and don'ts to access heaven is bondage to a master who will never give us what he promises - true freedom. Because even though we think we're good enough, when we are finally compared to the measureless perfection of God - the true standard - we can't come close to even being on the same scale.

See, Paul says that the cross of Jesus offends people (verse 11). Why would it do that? Because the cross says to the world, you can never do enough good stuff to save yourself or to make God happy, because you are bad through and through - so bad, someone else had to do it for me. Even though I know in my head that what I do will never make me acceptable to God, my instinct rebels against the thought, because I like to think I can do it on my own. Isn't that the American ethic? Independent, pull-yourself-up-with-your-own-bootstraps self-sufficiency that tells me, yes, I can do it, and if you say I can't, I'll prove you wrong!

Maybe it's just me that has that subconscious reaction when I heard the Gospel saying that I can never be good enough on my own. But that reaction shows how little I understand the depth of my own depravity and the absolute perfection of God. Even the good stuff I do is tainted with the sin of pride. And I don't think this battle ends when one becomes a believer. I still have that self-righteous impulse to do good out of an effort to make myself feel good about myself, that I accomplished something on my own, that I made God love me more because I helped this person or forgave someone or gave up movies for Lent.

But Paul speaks clearly to this - don't use your freedom from the law as an excuse to build yourself up, but use it as a way to serve others out of love. Don't serve as a way to prove that you're a good Christian or that you're really committed {unlike those other lukewarm Christians} or just to make sure God's happy with you. If you are "in Christ" - if your identity and value and worth is found completely in what he gave you on the cross - then God is thrilled with you and sees you as perfect.

I know I am still waiting to be completely renewed, inside and out (verse 5). But even now, God looks at me through the lens of Christ's perfection. It can be so hard to accept that I don't have to do anything else to earn God's favor, but there it is - I have it already through Jesus. The only thing that counts in God's eyes is faith. And that faith brings freedom to our souls.
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