Do you find yourself constantly coming back to the foundational truths of Christianity found at the cross, or are you trying to walk out your Christian life in your own strength? Are you motivated to obey God today, or do His commandments feel like a heavy burden? Do you feel that Jesus Christ has made you free indeed or do you live under a weight of guilt and uncertainty about your salvation? Did you know that the gospel is not only the entry way for unbelievers but the entire residence of Christian living? Consider the following, which I hope might prove encouraging and helpful.
Galatians 3:1-3 “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?”
How did you get saved? Was it by law-keeping or by hearing the gospel and receiving grace through faith? I think you know the answer. If you are saved you know the power of the risen Savior Jesus Christ. Salvation has come in a person who is “Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption. Therefore, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord (1Corinthians 1:30-31).” He is all these things for us, and He will produce fruit in us through the power of the Holy Spirit.
In regards to our salvation the law contributed nothing but only bound everything up under sin (Galatians 3:22) and shut every mouth in regards to making an appeal of innocence before God (Romans 3:20). “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in His sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin (Romans 3:21).”
So the question comes- if we were saved apart from the law (read the rest of Galatians 3, or Romans 3:28), and if Jesus Christ is our salvation and our sanctification, then what becomes of the law?
Now, as believers, “Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary we uphold the law (Romans 3:31).” We recognize that “the law is good if one uses it lawfully”- which is to use it for its intended purpose of convicting unbelievers of sin and pointing them to Christ (see 1Timothy 1:8-11). There is no problem with the law, but it presents a problem for law-breakers. God’s righteous standards still stand, and in fact, Jesus Christ explained the heart of the commandments in such a way that he exposed sin hidden within men’s hearts (see Matthew 5:17-48). Jesus upheld the law, kept the law, and bore the punishment for our law-breaking, so that “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us (Galatians 3:13).” Now, we see the law, but we turn away from looking to law-keeping to gain righteousness, and we look to Jesus Christ who redeems us and sets us free to live by grace. That is faith.
So again, “having begun in the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” Let me paraphrase- if there was never any law-keeping soundness in your flesh in the first place, never any righteousness of your own that could bring you closer to God, if it is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that you were reborn and changed, do you really think your own strength will further sanctify you?
I believe the contrast here is one of reliance. Paul would not encourage law-breaking, nor would he discourage good works. But he certainly would, and does warn us not to add to the gospel, as if even after being saved we could add strength or merit to our salvation. He would also warn us not to make room in our hearts for the religion of will-power and self-reliance.
Why do I say that? Look at the previous verses: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if justification were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose (Galatians 2:20-21).”
Paul is always concerned with human boasting. He is zealous that Jesus Christ receive glory for every single aspect of Christian living- not only salvation. He never wants to nullify or make void the grace of God by depending on human effort rather than on Jesus’ death and resurrection, and the power of the Holy Spirit living within.
So here is the point I have been laboring to get to: When you have a desire to do good but find yourself lacking the gusto to do it- guess what? You are in good company with Paul who said: “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out (Romans 7:18).”
Yes, as a Christian you are reborn. Yes you have a new heart with new desires, but guess what? In your own flesh there is yet no ability to perform good works, especially not in a way that pleases God. You and I must constantly return to the truths of the gospel, the reality of grace, the motivation of expressing love to the God who loved us enough to send His own Son to condemn sin in the flesh (Romans 8:3), and reliance on the Spirit of God living in us (see Romans 8:5-16) in order to walk those new desires out!
Do you know what we are going to discover when we do this? We are going to find out that “Now the Lord is Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:17-18).”
Doesn’t that sound awesome? Doesn’t that sound like the kind of transforming, sanctifying power you want working in your life? Perhaps obedience to God has felt burdensome and joyless to you, and it causes you to wonder if you really love the Lord. Consider that perhaps it is because you are not going to Christ for love, grace, motivation, and a changed heart, and maybe you are relying on self-determined obedience to gain favor with God rather than continuing your Christian walk in total reliance on the Spirit of God, knowing you are fully accepted as His child because of Christ’s death. When the Holy Spirit is working in you, producing new desires and granting you the ability to carry them out, you are truly free from bondage to the law, and free to obey God from a heart overflowing with love. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”
Philippians 2:12-13 “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Praise God!