When Working Doesn’t Work

“If a religious system dominates or powers over you and tries to manage your behaviors or beliefs, it’s a human-made system.”
from Bandersnatch by Erika Morrison

The above statement caught my eye as I read, and I couldn’t help but give at least a slight nod of agreement. Indeed, it seems our human tendency is one of keeping up appearances while keeping others in their place. I can’t help but think this notion impacted Paul’s penning of Galatians’ reminder that the heart of Christianity is not a list of rule-keeping, but rather faith, expressing itself in love. (See Galatians 5:5)

The Message’s introduction to Galatians shares: When men and women get their hands on religion, one of the first things they do is turn it into an instrument for controlling others.

It’s hard to break tradition. It’s hard to step outside a pattern of doing things the way we have always done them. Galatians is a warning to those who had chosen a new course of following Jesus in place of the rules that had long governed their entire religious system. It holds a message of caution to avoid imposing personal beliefs upon others, leading them back into bondage to a method instead of toward God’s gift of grace. It’s also a reminder to resist allowing our own freedoms to be turned back to captivity.

Paul addresses the Galatians with the questions: How did your new life in Christ begin? Was it by working to please God or was it by responding to His message of love to you? Clearly, the way of Jesus was an invitation to accept His love and sacrifice poured out on behalf of all mankind at Calvary’s knoll. So how is it that you continue to play the fool with this load of “works-oriented” faith? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human exertions?

In essence, Paul is issuing the reminder that we can never complete by our own best efforts what was begun in us by grace alone.

It is only by trusting in Jesus’ righteousness that we are made right with God. To think or act otherwise flies in the face of Christ’s suffering on the Cross.

Knowing all that, I still fall into the trap of scrambling to please God with my own version of “goodness.” The thought of grace really does seem too good to be true, so I attempt to support my salvation with a host of erroneous addendums. Sadly, by thinking to somehow add to my own saving, I am actually taking away from grace’s full effect over my life as I mask the complete work of Christ with false representations of human efforts.

Another portion of The Message’s introduction reads:  Through Jesus, Paul learned that God was not an impersonal force to be used to make people behave in certain prescribed ways, but a personal Savior who set us free to live a free life. God did not coerce us from without, but set us free from within. (emphasis mine)

It is not a burdensome system of rules to which we have been invited to partake, but more akin to a lavish banquet provided by the King of the Universe. Yet we approach it like a neighborhood potluck. Scrambling to throw together a casserole to add to the mix, we scrounge through our meager supplies, desperate to come up with our own version of heavenly hash to offer.

Let me reiterate Paul’s sentiment to this mindset: There is absolutely NOTHING we can bring to the table on our own.

Everything is already there, from the most succulent of entrees to the last piece of silverware. All has been provided by the nail-pierced hands of a flawless Savior. It is beyond time to cease striving, attempting to perform our way into God’s good graces. We can never sustain a relationship with Him on our own merit; it is only through faith in Jesus that we stand secure and holy.

At the root of the gospel is not a list of standards to uphold, but rather, it is a love affair with Jesus.

It is this love that should govern our lives and our faith. We don’t need human-made rules to keep us looking perfect. In actuality, rule keeping merely perpetuates itself into more rule keeping. Where will the vicious cycle ever end? What we really need is His love — received deep into our souls and applied to every facet of living.

It is the love of Jesus that both sets us free and holds us steady.

For eternity.

And for our good.

And for His glory.

Let’s toss in the towel of “works-oriented” faith so we can freely grasp the unmerited grace and favor of Jesus as the sheer gift that it is. Then let’s run like wild toward the goal set before us – arms outstretched to fling ourselves into His own. Knowing we will be caught and held and loved there forever.

The deal has been closed.

Your salvation is secure.

And your future is alive with purpose.

Let’s live like we believe it is so.

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not be encumbered once more by a yoke of slavery.” — Galatians 5:1

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