I’ve discovered that many Christians, post-conversion, have a tendency towards legalism or antinomianism of their pursuit of sanctification.
I’ve seen this development each in church buildings I’ve pastored and in Christian pals. One girl grew up in a strict Reformed Baptist residence. She at all times tended towards legalism, and fought it biblically for years. One other good friend was transformed in his mid-thirties after spending a few years trying to find pleasure in bars and honky-tonks. He has battled an antinomian impulse for a few years. Others pendulum-swung after conversion: from legalism to license, or vice versa.
Not all Christians battle deeply in certainly one of these areas, however the tendency is widespread. That’s why we so desperately want Galatians.
Give My Life Again to Jesus?
My discovery of the non secular riches in Galatians got here on the finish of an extended street. For greater than a decade, I attempted to observe Jesus by “rededicating” my life to him over and time and again, possibly 200 instances. I used to be transformed at age 10 and was lucky to develop up in church. That church preached the gospel fairly nicely. My sin. His grace. Repentance. Religion. Forgiveness. Reconciliation. God’s anger at sin and sinners was at all times current.
However discipleship and sanctification? Not a lot.
Though my childhood church helped me perceive easy methods to change into a Christian, it took me lots longer to study in regards to the pilgrimage that follows salvation — the necessity for every day repentance and killing sin, praying for the fruit of the Spirit, and different essential parts of sanctification. I lived as if justification got here by grace by way of religion however sanctification got here by legislation.
My life was a irritating merry-go-round of sin — rededication, law-keeping in my very own power, sin, rededication, law-keeping — you get the image. I needed to preserve proving to God that I used to be critical about him. Virtually, it was a wierd brew of Baptist nominalism and Roman Catholic formalism.
Sanctified by Grace
Then, at a nationwide convention for Christian males in 1995, I heard a plainly worded sermon on Galatians 2:20:
I’ve been crucified with Christ. It’s now not I who stay, however Christ who lives in me. And the life I now stay within the flesh I stay by religion within the Son of God, who beloved me and gave himself for me.
By way of the preaching of that passage, God labored in my coronary heart. The gates of paradise swung open (to make use of a phrase from Luther), and I walked by way of. At age 28, I understood (maybe for the primary time) that each justification and sanctification are by grace — I used to be saved by grace and am now being sanctified by grace. Although I hadn’t but begun to review the Reformation in any depth, I comprehended extra clearly two important solas: sola fide and sola gratia.
I understood how they utilized to my every day stroll with Jesus: I was saved (justified) by grace by way of religion alone, and I am being saved (sanctified) by grace by way of religion — the life I now stay within the flesh, I stay by religion within the Son of God. For all the hassle concerned within the Christian life, we develop, at backside, by religion in Jesus Christ, as we relaxation on the grace he provides us. The cycle of rededication, sin, and rededication stopped; my development within the Lord accelerated, and I ultimately entered the ministry with a coronary heart to assist others.
And I fell in love with Galatians. Practically 25 years later, I’ve preached or taught by way of Galatians 5 instances and have learn meditatively by way of it dozens of instances. Nonetheless, I haven’t grown previous my have to stroll on a path paved with the grace-saturated phrases of this letter. I think I’m not alone, so listed below are six causes I’ll by no means be capable to depart Galatians behind.
1. Good works, nonetheless good they might seem, don’t justify us.
I do know, that is Christianity 101, an apparent fact, notably for these of us of a sure theological persuasion. However I’m a fourth-class legalist at coronary heart, and my interior Pharisee is usually the preacher I’m most keen to listen to. The system of rededication I operated below for thus a few years gave me safety as a result of I used to be consistently doing one thing, then checking the field. Achieved. However Paul corrects this impulse: “Let me ask you solely this: Did you obtain the Spirit by works of the legislation or by listening to with religion? Are you so silly? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:2–3).
Whereas real saving religion will present itself in non secular fruit (as James 2 makes clear), I’m frequently tempted to make my works — rededicating myself to God, doing evangelism, feeding the hungry — the bottom of my acceptance with God. However in Galatians, Paul jogs my memory that justification is thru religion alone, by grace alone, in Christ alone. I by no means develop previous my have to be reminded of the gospel.
2. Complicated legislation and gospel is a pathway to distress.
Sadly, many Christians stroll this troublesome street each single day. A pithy saying typically (falsely, I believe) attributed to John Bunyan captures this potential distress nicely:
Run, John, run, the legislation instructions, however provides us neither toes nor arms.
Much better information the gospel brings: it bids us fly and provides us wings.
The legislation as energy for Christian dwelling is a horrible taskmaster. For years, I attempted to earn for myself what Christ had already purchased. For years, I used to be a joyless, drained Christian. I’ve met far too many Christians through the years who’re in the identical situation because of an unbiblical understanding of legislation and gospel. As a substitute of seeing the legislation as a information to their sanctification, they noticed the legislation — and never the gospel — because the technique of attaining their sanctification. Grace is the tracks on which each justification and sanctification run.
3. Christ has set us free from sin, however not free to sin.
For all of the years I spent scuffling with legalism, I additionally spent quite a lot of time as a sensible antinomian. I beloved the half the place Paul says we’re let loose from the legislation. I sinned. God forgave. That was his job. Whereas I’d have by no means agreed that this was true, I lived as if it had been. I’m most likely not the one Christian in church historical past who has lived this fashion for a season till God’s fact corrected this lethal untruth. Grace not solely pays the penalty for sin; it additionally disables the facility of sin. God’s grace not solely pardons however empowers. A Christian is a slave to Christ, free to now not undergo the chains of sin (Galatians 5:1).
4. The Holy Spirit shouldn’t be the junior-varsity participant inside the Godhead.
Right here’s one typically ignored truth about Galatians: references to the Spirit outnumber the phrases associated to justification. Galatians taught me to stroll consistent with the Spirit and liberated me from any have to be consistently re-upping my dedication to Jesus. It helped me to see the important function the Spirit performs in my sanctification and corrected my naïve theology that virtually assumed the Spirit was just for Pentecostals. All Christians ought to write Galatians 5:16–25 over the door of their hearts.
5. The Christian life is the crucified life.
Paul reminds us that if we’re in Christ, then we’re crucified with him (Galatians 2:20). Our sin — not partially, however the entire — is nailed to the cross, and we bear it no extra. Our previous man is nailed to the cross, and we’re free to take up our crosses every day and go onerous after Jesus. We’re let loose from love of self, liberated to like and serve others. Central to orthodox Christianity is give, not get. For years, I lived as if the reverse had been true.
6. God calls us to reassert the gospel in each technology.
Paul’s sturdy admonition in Galatians 1 helped spur Luther and different Reformers to recuperate the true gospel within the Reformation. The identical gospel should be asserted and reasserted in each technology. Peter sought to fire up our minds by means of reminder as a result of we’re a forgetful folks (2 Peter 1:13). And the very first thing to go, often, is the gospel. However the gospel we reassert should be the gospel of God’s grace in Christ. As Paul factors out in Galatians 1, all different so-called “gospels” are the broad street that results in destruction (Galatians 1:6–9).
Do the tendencies to legalism and license sound acquainted? Then flee to Galatians and discover superb freedom from the bondage of frequently proving your goodness to God, or discover joyful liberation out of your wishes for liberty to chase after the world.
For each Christian can say with Paul, “I’ve been crucified with Christ. It’s now not I who stay, however Christ who lives in me. And the life I now stay within the flesh I stay by religion within the Son of God, who beloved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).