May Reading from The Message
Are you working really hard to follow all the right rules? Here in chapter 2 of Paul’s letter to the Galatians he talks about his past and how to overcome a focus on rule-keeping and peer-pleasing.
Have some of you noticed that we are not yet perfect? (No great surprise, right?) And are you ready to make the accusation that since people like me, who go through Christ in order to get things right with God, aren’t perfectly virtuous, Christ must therefore be an accessory to sin? The accusation is frivolous. If I was “trying to be good,” I would be rebuilding the same old barn that I tore down. I would be acting as a pretender.
19-21 What actually took place is this: I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn’t work. So I quit being a “law man” so that I could be God’s man. Christ’s life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not “mine,” but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not going to go back on that.
21 Is it not clear to you that to go back to that old rule-keeping, peer-pleasing religion would be an abandonment of everything personal and free in my relationship with God? I refuse to do that, to repudiate God’s grace. If a living relationship with God could come by rule-keeping, then Christ died unnecessarily.
The Gospel Begins with Acceptance
Rule keeping is good behavior or religious behavior that’s performed because someone else is looking, or because God is looking. It’s living life by performance, by show, by achievement. And, of course, it imprisons us, because someone is always looking. When someone is looking, we never experience the joy of doing something just for the pleasure it brings to someone or for the sense of rightness it has in our own lives.
We must always be calculating what someone else will think of what we do, whether it will fit into what others expect, how God might reward us, what penalties we’ll avoid. There’s no free space in such a life to be oneself, to develop personal relationships, to accept others and be accepted just as we are, to speak our minds, to do what’s in our hearts, to adore, to believe, to love. The gospel reverses that process: It begins with acceptance; then, with the rush of freedom into the soul that acceptance brings, the spiritual, moral, responsible life develops.
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