Galatians 2:17-21 (the message)
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 I tore down. I would be acting as a charlatan.
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.
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.
As I begin to type, I ask Him to give me the words. I walk over to turn up the volume on the music playing in my kitchen and what I hear stops me as Kim Walker-Smith belts out these lyrics: It’s all about You, Jesus…It’s all about You…and this love, this song, this praise is what we bring to You.
And that’s it. It’s all about Jesus.
Yesterday afternoon, Rivers asked me to read a verse in Galatians chapter five so she could finish her “Mapbook” from church (a little activity/review from the lesson at church each week). Before you get any lofty ideas, she doesn’t normally do it and part of her motive is that she gets “kid’s cash” to spend in the C3Kids “store” if she brings it back. She wants a pair of sunglasses. So there. Full disclosure. Laugh, this is real life. Anyway, as I read the verse she requested yesterday I felt the undeniable hand of God tapping His highlighter finger on my heart. The scripture was about how self-interest and living in God’s freedom is antithetical.
So, this morning I turned back to Galatians chapter one. An errant tear or two slid down my face as I read the verses above. Tears of conviction. And of gratitude. See, I have that nasty habit of “adding to” Jesus. Impressing God. Every time I do that I see what Paul describes as rebuilding the barn God already tore down. And goodness, it took a lot for me to finally let God tear down that striving, works mentality barn in my life. What lay in its’ stead was freedom. Freedom to be myself. To begin to get to know my Creator as myself and experience the amazing grace that changes me, invites me, woos me to follow Him.
Obedience pleases the Lord. Learning to hear His voice and yield to His leading pleases the Lord. Sin erects all kinds of barriers in our lives. It costs us, no doubt. Grace does not overlook our sin but it tears down the barn of “religion,” or human effort at reaching and pleasing God. Grace makes this whole thing personal.
Paul, the major writer of the New Testament!, is saying (in my words)… Look, my ego is no longer central. It’s not about me anymore…how well I keep the rules, how much I can impress you or even God…I’m all wrapped up in one person. One thing. Jesus, the love and freedom to be found in identifying completely with Jesus. Absorb these words with me, I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. Say what? It feels sacrilegious somehow, right? I mean aren’t we proving our respect and love for God when we live life driven to impress Him? Isn’t that a good thing? Aren’t we proving by our efforts, judgements and adherence to the rules, or “law,” that we are the real thing? The real and loyal Christians?
Am I suggesting we ignore right and wrong? Do whatever we feel like, when we feel like? Live according to our whims and feelings and flesh (selfishness)? No, not at all. I just recognize the light of truth in Galatians chapter two this morning because I’ve seen the view from barn-demolished living. Relying less on my own efforts and rule-following and becoming overwhelmingly grateful for Jesus. Relying on Christ in me. Not me. Cause like she’s singing, It’s all about Jesus. The more I realize how much He loves me, the more I believe everything about knowing God and experiencing a personal relationship with my Creator is rooted in Jesus, the more I can let go of appearances. See, even olympic-gold efforts at religion are still about me. My ego. How well I can live the Christian life. Wear my badge. Sigh, that stinks. To high heaven.
What happens in our lives, our everyday Monday-Saturday living, when we let God tear down that old barn? Some of us think we are “free” because we can dress how we want for church on Sundays, jump up and down or clap our hands in worship at church or have a glass of wine once in a while. But (ready now) we still gossip. We judge the “dress up” church crowd as less free. We are rude to strangers. Rude to our spouses and children. We secretly harbor bitterness and long-held grudges. We talk about God’s love but want to steer clear of “those kinds of people,” the very ones God is wanting us to love on. Our ego feels good on Sundays or Wednesday nights because we pray “more spiritually” and confess the right things about God meeting our needs. And some of us are so comfortable in our determination to hold fast to our denominational doctrine and tradition that we won’t open our ears and hearts to the beckoning of His voice. We miss out on fresh encounters with God because they haven’t been passed down to us from another human being. No matter how we brand ourselves, we might be giving up the freedom Jesus offers because we can’t get past our hard opinions (so often they are just that) and the investment in our works. We talk alot about what we need from God, but we don’t listen when God is trying to use us to meet the needs of others. We ignore Jesus when He tugs on our hearts to use our time a little differently. We don’t really want to hear the kind of truth that comes with barn-demolishing freedom because in the end it’s so much surrender. Straight up (yes I just wrote straight up!), you might even get offended with what you are reading in this post. If so, I get it! I have lived right in the thick of it and still wake up some mornings to the old familiar barn walls. But since I caught a glimpse of what surrender and humility will do in my life, I kind of get what Paul means when He says, I am not going back on that. I finished this book recently and one of the characters kept praying this prayer, “Break me, Lord, until I’m wholly yours.” I find myself uttering that prayer, a little nervous because breaking involves humility. But underneath my shattered pride, outside of the old barn, is the sweetest freedom. And nothing compares.
You know what misery is? Misery is waking up every day to the noise of that old barn being rebuilt in our lives, stealing our joy and peace, our Jesus-won freedom. Once you have peace, joy and hope there is a sharp contrast in living without it.
But we can be like Paul, you know? Begin to see it for what it is. Refuse to practice rule-keeping, peer-pleasing religion. Refuse to abandon everything personal and free in our relationship with God. Refuse to repudiate God’s grace. Because no matter how we dress it up, when we begin relying on what we do and don’t do in evaluating our relationship with God, we are setting grace aside. And without grace it’s not personal. It’s just religion.
Jesus, please help each of us wherever we are in our journey with You. I’m asking you to reveal Yourself to me, to all of us, in new ways. You made us, You love us, You live in a human body that was nailed to a cross for all eternity to prove Your love. We have nothing to prove to You, so help us realize we just need to respond to You in trust and obedience. Thank you for Your truth, even when it hurts my pride. Even when it’s uncomfortable. I don’t mind anymore because I know You love me and only You can make me free. Thank You, Lord.