Paul urged the churches of Galatia – who had men, it seems, who were thinking about being circumcised – to be careful.
“Do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.”
“Christ will be of no advantage to you.”
“You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.”
The law brings a person into slavery. The whole concept of “works” righteousness puts a person in bondage.
I have been thinking for the past few days, as we’ve been reading Galatians, about a woman I know who owns a small business. She had a bad experience with a church at one point in her life. And she was abused in her upbringing. And now she wants nothing to do with the church, nothing to do with God, nothing to do with Christ.
“I’m going to rely on merit,” she told me.
And so she lives a good life, as far as I can tell. I’ve seen her give away some of her products to those in need – and even to those who aren’t in need. She wants to do good things for a reason. If she’s telling the truth that she’s going to “rely on merit,” then she’s doing her good deeds in order to earn her own salvation.
But what she doesn’t seem to know is that she is a slave. She is a slave to “merit.” She has no choice in the matter. If she sees a person in need, she must help that person – not because it’s in her heart to be kind but because she doesn’t want any marks against her when God weighs the scales. (This is the same God she really wants nothing to do with.)
She’s a slave because everywhere she goes and with every person she interacts with, she always has to carry around this idea of doing good works. She always has to be mindful about whether she’s been “good enough” or whether her good deeds outweigh her bad ones.
It’s slavery. She can’t be her own person because she’s fallen under the control of “merit.”
And so this friend of mine – I don’t know what she’s really like. She’s done good things for me, but what’s she really like? What’s really in her heart?
It is true God wants us to do good things. My friend is correct about that. But God doesn’t want us to do good things in order to earn our salvation – to earn a ticket to heaven. That’s not how it works. It is impossible to do enough good things to earn our salvation. We would need to be perfect. And I don’t know about you, but I’ve already blown it!
No, we are saved only by the grace extended to us through Jesus Christ and his death on the cross. We don’t earn it. And because we don’t earn it, we don’t have to be slaves to “merit.” We’ve been given our freedom from all of that. We are free to be – us.
One of the interesting things about the apostle Paul is that he extolled the freedom we have in Christ while at the same time professing to be a “slave” of Christ. Remember the way in which Paul described himself in the opening verse of his letter to the Romans. The word “servant” in Romans 1:1 also could be translated “slave.” Paul was a slave of Christ Jesus.
So are we free or not? In Christ we are free. We are free from sin and death. We are free of slavery to the world’s ways and to its thinking. We are free from the works of the law. We are free from merit. We are free of the only things that really bind us in a negative way.
We also are free of the impossibly strong hold that sin has on our lives. Spiritual fruit is growing in us. And we experience growing amounts of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and the rest in our lives.
I like this freedom. I like the joy and the peace and the other fruit of the Spirit.
And, again, we don’t earn it. We’re saved because we’ve been given a gift. All we have to do is accept it.
And it’s such a wonderful gift – if we really understand it – that we find ourselves freely pledging our allegiance to Christ.
In our freedom, we know the One we are going to follow.