“...that I may gain Christ and be found in him...”—Philippians 3:8-9, NIV1984

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Don't Try to Earn Grace


15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.
17 But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! 18 For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. 19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20 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. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.—Galatians 2:15-21 (ESV)
If there was anyone who was familiar with the more than 613 laws (the Law) that God gave to Jews through Moses, it was Paul, God’s ambassador to the Gentiles. Yet, Paul clearly explained to the Gentiles that salvation is the same for Jews and Gentiles. It comes through having our sins justified through faith in Jesus Christ—that He justified them by doing what the Law required for sins, that is, dying. When, by faith in Jesus, our sins are justified, our sinful nature has been crucified with Him on the cross (v. 20). The justice that the Law required for sins was accomplished. Therefore the Law no longer has authority over us. Jesus has authority as His spirit reigns in us, and we are able to say “No!” to our sinful nature and yes to righteous living. This same Holy Spirit causes our resurrection on the last day (see Rom. 8:10-11). To say that one must repent and believe and follow certain rules to be saved would be to nullify (v. 21) the completeness of Jesus’ redemptive work and at the same time, give ourselves some credit for our salvation. That is just heresy. To say that we have to follow laws to be saved or somehow earn our salvation also nullifies the grace of God (the undeserved favor of God) which He displayed in Christ dying for us while we still sinners, while we deserved his just wrath, while we were his enemies. As Jesus said, the only work we have to do for salvation is “...that you believe in him whom he has sent (John 6:29, ESV).”

Some churches (or individuals) do the very same thing today that Paul addressed in this passage. The churches have created new laws that members either feel obliged (or are told) to follow in order to maintain salvation or acquire it in the first place. Christians belonging to these congregations may feel like they have not qualified to receive God’s grace when they don’t have a “quiet time” each day or if they have a long list of “unconfessed” sins or if they don’t attend all the weekly services or if they don’t share the gospel enough or invite people to the church services, or get baptized with water, or ____________ (you fill in the blank).

Having the habit of reading the Bible and praying as a daily routine is great. This is great way to get to know the Savior. Being humble before God and confessing sins is great. God lifts us up, and his grace helps us to recover (see James 4:6). Going to church services or doing other “Christian” activities like eating lunch at a Chick-Fil-A chapel (that’s a joke), are all great things to do, but we must be careful as Christians that we don’t make people feel obliged to these things as if they are some kind of New Testament laws which our salvation or favor with God depend on.

We don’t have to do these things, but we get to. When people know who God wants them to be and what He wants them to do, they want to do these things if they believe these activities will help them be and do what God wants. People need this kind of vision. Otherwise they do what feels best (See Proverbs 29:18). They do what’s natural and easy, and those usually aren’t things that will accomplish the Great Commission (see Matt 28:18-20). None of this is to say that Christians shouldn’t follow laws in the Old Testament. You can read more about that in another post.