For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. (Galatians 5:6)
Putting God in Our Debt
We live, move, and have our being within a world of merit. If you study harder, you get better grades. If you work longer hours, you make more money. If you outperform the other players, you’ll make the team and they’ll get cut. In other words, earning is the air we breathe. And so we establish our lives around the concept that if we can only boost our sweat equity, we’ll get more out of life.
In fact, this whole notion is so engrained in us that it works its way quite sneakily into our relationship with God. We get bamboozled into thinking that if we do all the religious stuff God asks of us, He will owe us something in return. In doing this, we construct a perverse enterprise of putting God in our debt.
However, in the Gospel we come to know that God Himself doesn’t have any debts; rather, He generously pays our enormous deficit of righteousness through His Son and in full. Therefore, God isn’t your shift supervisor, your schoolteacher, or your coach; nor is He the man upstairs who dishes out an occasional blessing to those who aren’t on His naughty list. No, He’s the Father who loves low-lifes and malcontents outrageously in Christ, which means that earning is out of the question.
In Galatians 5:6, Paul unhinges the Gospel from our ability to earn. Speaking to a group of Christians who were teetering on the edge of affirming the doctrine of Jesus + circumcision, Paul wisely calls them to come to their senses. He shows them that the whole business of circumcision vs. non-circumcision has been nullified because God has eliminated the plus sign from the equation altogether. We are saved in Christ, and that’s it. All our righteousness comes from Him, and we can’t add one iota of religious observance to make the equation more complete. No plus signs allowed. It is finished. Theologian Gerhard O. Forde paints the picture more clearly:
“We are justified freely, for Christ’s sake, by faith, without the exertion of our own strength, gaining of merit, or doing of works. To the age-old question, ‘What shall I do to be saved?’ the confessional answer is shocking: ‘Nothing! Just be still; shut up and listen for once in your life to what God the Almighty, creator and redeemer, is saying to his world and to you in the death and resurrection of his Son! Listen and believe!'”
Two Things Become Clear
So why on earth does it matter? Well, for starters, the Good News of God’s love in Christ causes two things to become more clear against the muddled backdrop of our incessant need to keep score.
First, this Gospel can, and should, put an end to our self-inflicted enterprise of earning divine merit badges from God. He wants to set us free from the exhaustion of life on that unforgiving treadmill so He can rejuvenate us in His grace. But that can’t happen as long as we continue to burden ourselves with earning favor that has already been freely given in Christ. While we’re busy freaking out, God is releasing His Spirit into the chaos of our hectic souls in the form of a gentle whisper: “You’re okay. I love you and I’ve taken care of everything. You can rest in me now.” Nothing can calm and soothe us quite like that.
Second, when the reality of the Gospel lands on our hearts, it infuses our obedience with warm affections for Christ. This is what Paul refers to in Galatians 5:6 as “faith working through love.” And it’s the only thing that counts. In other words, a heart that has come alive to the Gospel sees obedience, not as drudgery, but as a joyful expression of love for God in Christ. Far from suffocating us, obedience actually oxygenates us for once. Therefore, we abandon the loathsome chore of score-keeping to embrace the call to be faithful and fruitful for the Kingdom of God.
How We Make the Most of Sundays
And when it comes to the joy of Gospel obedience, the Lord’s Day is, of course, no exception. Sunday ceases to be a weekly kudos we give to the man upstairs so we can earn our get-out-of-hell-free card before we croak; and becomes the passion of undivided, whole-life allegiance to the cosmic Christ distilled into 80 minutes of faith working through love. We make the most of Sundays when we bank everything on the Gospel. If we come to church for any other reason than this, it’s going to be a ho-hum experience at best. Sure, the music might be half-way decent and the preacher might seem like a nice guy, but is the Good News resonating within the deepest faculties of your personhood to produce faith working through love? That’s what really matters.
So let’s prepare for this Lord’s Day by cherishing the Gospel right now. Don’t wait until Sunday. Rather, as you read these words, ask God to make your heart alive to the reality that grace trumps our enterprise of earning. This is where He freely meets us and invites us to experience the Good News for all it’s worth. No pretense. No scorecards. Only faith working through love. Knowing the embrace of our heavenly Father sets us free to stop using Sundays as an occasion to try and impress Him. Jesus already did that for us. All we need to do is show up, stretch out the empty hands of faith, and receive His lavish grace in Christ alone. It’s that simple.
Liturgy for Sunday, May 17, 2015:
Call to Worship:
Oh give thanks to the LORD; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples! Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works! Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice! Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually! (Psalm 105:1-4)
The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. (Numbers 6:24-26)
Follow the Spotify playlist for this Sunday.