(15) We are ourselves Jews by nature, and not “gentile sinners.” (16) But we know that no person can be made right with God by doing works prescribed by the law, but through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. And we put our trust in Christ Jesus so that we could be made right by the faithfulness of Christ, and not by the works prescribed by the law, because nobody can be made right by the works prescribed by the law. (17) Now if by seeking to be made right in Christ, we turn out to be sinners as they are, is Christ then the minister of sin? Absolutely not! (18) For if I rebuild the things that I once tore down, I demonstrate that I am a transgressor. (19) As for me, by means of the law I died to the law, so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ, (20) it is no longer I who is living, but Christ lives in me. And the life that I now live in the flesh, I live by putting my trust in the son of God who loved me and gave himself for me. (21) I don’t nullify God’s grace. For if being right with God was possible through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. — Galatians 2:15-21
Just over a week ago, Mike Bradley spoke at Gonzalez United Methodist Church on the topic, â€œAre You a Foreigner?â€ There were a number of things that struck me, but one key thing was citizenship. There are a number of things about citizenship that are interesting. When you travel to a foreign country, you are subject to their laws. But no amount of simply obeying the laws of another country will make you a citizen. You have to go through the appropriate process specified by that country’s laws.
My parents were Canadian citizens and I was born in Canada. They lived and worked in the United States off and on for many years. They didn’t violate the laws of the United States or of Canada. But after quite a number of years they felt they needed U. S. citizenship in order to carry on their work. They then had to spend a certain number of years at a stretch in one place and then go forward with the process of citizenship.
I was 10 years old at the time, and just came along for the ride. They did all the work, but I’m just as much a citizen of the United States as they are. Odd, isn’t it that becoming a citizen had nothing to do with merit on my part. It just happened.
There are numerous things that we don’t find very easy to understand about salvation. One of those is simply this: When God has specified a way to get into right relationship with him, no amount of doing something else will substitute. When he says, â€œPut your trust in Jesus,â€ you can’t decide to live a totally correct life instead, and expect it to work.
But there’s something more than that. When you have been made right with God there are some changes as well. I became a citizen of the United States at age 10 through no merit of my own, but I have nonetheless assumed obligations that result from that action. That’s only a very minor change compared to what happens when one chooses Jesus over the other kingdom.
There is an entire perspective change. It’s not that the old laws were a failure in what they were supposed to do. It’s not that those laws are a bad thing. Paul tells us in Romans that the law is â€œholy, just and good.â€ No matter how long I hammer on a board with my hammer, I won’t get a neat cut, shortening that board to the right size. For that I need a saw. No matter how hard I keep the laws of Canada, they won’t make me a law abiding citizen of the United Statesâ€”they may be perfectly good for their purpose (and I lost the right to judge those laws back at age 10), but they are not now my laws.
There is simply no substitute for just doing what Jesus said, and putting your trust in him. You may be worried about what may happen. Will my life fall apart? Others may wonder if sin is going to multiply because you’ve received grace. But the command is clear: Trust!
(Tomorrow I’m going to continue with something more from Galatians.)