|A photo that may or may not represent me "running well."|
Since becoming a Christian in 1999, I've read this phrase in the Bible many times. It's typical Paul - no-nonsense, straight-shooting style, telling the church at Galatia how it is.
It hit me anew when I read it again yesterday. Here's the whole passage (Galatians 5:1-8) so that you can have the context (context is of paramount importance in interpreting Scripture aright):
For those unfamiliar with the issues surrounding this passage, Paul is criticizing members of the Galatian church for succumbing to false teaching, teaching insisting that circumcision, a necessity according to Jewish law, is necessary also for salvation. Paul reiterates that salvation is through "faith working through love," and that those who would treat it as an issue of works or law is bound by something lesser than the glorious grace of Christ, "the hope of righteousness."For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you.
I am a works-oriented person. I struggle with wanting to do Christianly things just to make God "like" me more (as if it worked that way). A reading of Galatians has, therefore, always been encouraging to me.
And it should be encouraging! I know I'm not the only one who struggles with dependence on works in this task-driven and output-oriented American culture. However, these verses are so much more than mere encouragement - they are challenge.
The are challenge because reliance on grace instead of "circumcision" - the works we depend on to "save" us, in whatever form they take - is not just something that will better our lives when we embrace it. It is an issue of obedience. Paul says, "You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth?"
That simple statement made me realize what I hadn't been able to see my whole life past. Living by grace and not works is non-negotiable. To do anything but what God has prescribed is sin.
To do anything but what God has prescribed. It is sin for me to embrace any thought pattern, lifestyle or worldview that is not the Lord's perfect will. Oh, no! If I did not already know Christ, I would be asking, with desperation, the question that the disciples asked in Matthew 19:25: "who then can be saved?"
Recognizing all this, isn't it amazing that I can turn to the Lord in repentance and know that even in my constant, systemic, unrecognized sin, I am forgiven through Christ's blood? Merciful Lord! I only pray that my current repentance will carry through to its conclusion, and bring about a change in my mind, heart and soul. Praise be to the Holy Spirit, who convicts and guides even when we would be willful and unbiddable!