The tension between Christian obedience and grace is a battlefield of the mind. Undoubtedly, doubt creeps into our thoughts about our relationship with God, and it usually centers around our perception of obedience and its role in that relationship. Bible verses come to mind, like, “If you love me, keep my commands” (John 14:15) or “Now by this we know that we know Him if we keep His commandments” (1st John 2:3). I find it interesting that God implemented the Law of Moses to show mankind that he, within himself, cannot live flawlessly. We need grace!
The above thought brings me to the place for today’s lesson. Paul is writing to the church in Galatia, and he is very concerned that they have turned away “to a different gospel” (Galatians 1:6). I like how the NIV translates the beginning of v7 concerning this different gospel, “which is really no gospel at all.” You see, some Judaizers have come onto the scene. Who were the Judaizers? They were Christians who adopted Jewish religious practices or sought to influence others to do so. There was a tension between obedience (the Law) and grace in the early church. During the Council at Jerusalem in Acts 15, “Some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, ‘It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses'” (Acts 15:5). Even the apostle Peter struggled with this transition in his mind, for by his actions, he too was compelling “Gentiles to live like Jews” (Galatians 2:14).
I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.
As Paul seeks to encourage these Christians strongly, he does so in part through personal reflection. He is about to build on what he just said in 2:19, “For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God.” The ETRV says in part, “I died to the law so that I could live for God.” I find it interesting that there is a link between real-life in Christ and the death of something. As Christians, we understand this idea of picking up our cross daily to follow Christ (Luke 9:23; Mark 8:25; Matthew 10:38). Although important to the Christian walk, this is not what Paul is speaking of here. The death here is any notion that someone could somehow view the Law as “life-giving” to the believer. So, he states that he has been “crucified with Christ.” One person writes, “The things that had mattered in his past life-hopes, ideals, ambitions, zeal for the law-these things were now dead to him.” Paul worded it this way in Philippians 3:7, “But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ.” “The once self-righteous Pharisee had died,” as one commentator put it.
Paul had come to realize that to live, truly live, he must die with His Savior. Put on the cross all those things which he placed so much confidence in through the Law. Die to any notion that I can somehow be sufficient without Christ. In its place, his trust is now in Christ, “…the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” His confidence now resides in the good news of Jesus Christ.
As Christians, that tension between obedience and grace will always present itself at times. Freedom in Christ does not disavow the need for compliance. The problem comes when we begin to find confidence (or, in many cases, lose faith) concerning our relationship with God based on obedience. That is a losing battle, and to be honest, it is a different gospel that is no gospel at all.