“Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?” (Gal. 3:3)
The Galatians began their relationship with God by believing in Jesus and receiving the Holy Spirit by grace alone. But at some point along the way they started thinking they needed to add works to their faith in order to be saved, and to continue receiving God’s blessing and favour in their lives.
Like the Galatians, many of us believe we are saved by faith in Jesus and by faith we receive the Holy Spirit. But like the Galatians, as time goes on we also tend to think that our spiritual performance determines God’s love for us, his pleasure in us and his blessing for us.
For the Galatians this meant trying to earn God’s blessing through works of the law like being circumcised, observing special days, and keeping the Jewish food laws. Today we tend to think, “The more I read my Bible, the more I pray, the more I give, the more active I am in church, the more God loves me, the more pleased he is with me, the more He will bless me, watch over me, protect me and prosper me—and ultimately save me.”
This performative system—which basically says the degree of God’s blessing toward us is based on the degree of our spiritual achievement—seems so straightforward and obvious that we hardly give it a second thought. Except that as Paul points out to the Galatians, this way of thinking is completely false. It is not gospel; in fact, it is anti-gospel.
Our works, our efforts, our spiritual performance can never earn God’s blessing. Why? Because God’s standards are too high for us to ever achieve. We might be “holier” than other people we know, but compared to God we have not accomplished anything. Trying to earn God’s blessing, favour and salvation is a road that leads to a dead-end.
In our heart of hearts, we know this already. I might think I am more blessed by God when I do more for him. But deep down I know I am not doing nearly enough. I am not praying as much as I should, I am not reading the Bible as much as I should, and I am not witnessing, giving, or sacrificing as much as I should.
I feel God is probably disappointed with me and maybe even angry with me. But then I suppose he has every right to feel this way. I feel bad about it but at the same time I have so many pressures and responsibilities and so much going on, where is the time to do more for God?
So I feel guilty but I also feel exhausted and trapped; and I do not see things improving anytime soon. So I may put on a happy face and pretend everything is fine when I go to church, but I know inside that life is anything but good. Thankfully there is a better way. There is good news. There is the way of grace, as Paul points out to the Galatians.
Grace says God’s blessing, favour, and salvation were not based on my own efforts in the first place, and so God’s continued blessing, favour, and salvation are not based on my efforts going forward either.
Instead, it is all based on the finished work of Jesus on my behalf, which I receive by faith alone (Gal. 3:9). Nothing I ever do or do not do will ever change how much God loves me, because his love for me is not based on what I do—it is based on what Jesus has already done for me.
Of course there are many things I need to do—read the Bible, pray, give, serve, share about Jesus with those who do not know him. But there is a world of difference between doing these things out of the blessing and favour I have received from God through Jesus, as opposed to doing these things in order to earn God’s blessing and favour. This is the difference between grace and law, gospel and anti-gospel, freedom and bondage, life and death.
Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. This is the gospel. This is why it is good news.