Jesus Perfects You, Not Your Own Efforts: Galatians 3:1-6
Law lovers—a very serious accusation in the ancient church. Of all the errors that Paul dealt with, this was paramount—not radical theologies, wild prophets claiming to have a new “revelation” from God, or fantastic healing oils secreted from some holy man’s feet that could be yours for three easy payments of $9.99. No, the error is far more basic and deeply rooted in the human condition.
At the heart of the matter, both in ancient Galatia and in our churches today, most believe that through effort one can become “holy” and “righteous.” Both of these terms are thrown around a lot in religious circles. In short, both indicate the idea of being different than the average person, set apart, pure and without error or “sin.”
And as many get into their religious routines, attending more bible-studies, giving money to the church, white-knuckling their urge for whatever sin, and volunteering, some gain a sense of being “good” and “holy”—like they are better than that person down the road who never goes to church, maybe sleeps around, and puffs a little ganja once and a while. The truth is, they are no different. I take that back, the second might be even better. Why? Because at least that person might be honest about who they are. The former covers themselves with nice actions and behaviors, but underneath it all, they are just as selfish and just as messed-up.
Paul hits the Galatians with this same idea. He says to them, “Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Gal. 3:2-3)
We were made new and reanimated by the Spirit given to us by Jesus Christ’s death on the cross. It is his life in us through the spirit that has saved us. Paul asks, however, whether we received this by being super good and doing all the right things or by hearing the truth and recognizing it as such? The answer is the latter. It could not be the case in the first instance because, as Paul said earlier in chapter 2:2, that if right actions could bring new life than Jesus died for nothing.
So, if grace (getting a free gift we didn’t earn or deserve) saved us, are we then going to complete the process of becoming perfect by our efforts and hard work? If our flesh and effort could not reanimate our bodies and souls, what makes us think that our flesh can “finish” the job?
Sin is destroyed by Christ, not by our fleshly might.
We are neither powerful enough to stop sinning or work our way into holiness. However, so many “Christians”, insisting upon their religion, demand that we are still unclean and need to clean-up our lives as perpetual sinners. Still others claim that we need to work our way into holiness through fasting and other fleshly things so miracles can happen.
Paul hits this as well.
“Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?” (Gal. 3:5)
Life change only happens because of Jesus. Sin is broken and the miraculous occurs because of Jesus, not because you or anyone else did something extra special and holy that made you better than the rest.
Don’t fool yourself. Heaven is not rent, opened, or brought down to earth through your fasting, praying, meditation, or any other mortification of the body. Heaven was open by Jesus. Period.
The idea that you need to do better to become better is religion. The gospel is the opposite. We are made better, and so then we will do better. This transformation is something Jesus does, not something humans can do for themselves.
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