Many people go through their lives trying to be good enough for God. For some it’s a belief that if they just do more good things than bad things, then they’ll be good to go when they die. Others follow a list of do’s and don’ts that they hope will get them into heaven. Even Christians often rely on a form of religion to supposedly make them righteous and keep God happy. They fall into the trap of thinking it’s what they’re supposed to do if they’re a good Christian.
But is that really what God wants from us? Is a list of do’s and don’ts really the path to righteousness?
In Paul’s letter to the Christians in Galatia, he answers those questions with a resounding no.
We are saved by grace
Paul makes it clear that our salvation is through the work of Christ on the cross. It’s God’s grace, not our works, that saves us. And it’s the work of the Holy Spirit that helps us grow in righteousness as we walk through this fallen world.
The people in Galatia were being told by others that being saved through their belief in Jesus and what He had done for them on the cross was not enough. They also needed to be circumcised, and practice certain religious rituals, and observe certain holy days. There was a list of do’s and don’ts that they were being told to follow if they wanted to be truly right with God.
But Paul reminds them of the truth.
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery… You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”
In these verses, those who have been saved through grace by Jesus’ work on the cross are told…
- We are no longer slaves to the law. Do’s and don’ts won’t make us better, holier Christians. We are free!
- The righteous life that we long for even now in this world will only happen through the work of the Holy Spirit in us. His fruit in our lives will keep bringing us closer and closer to the righteousness that will only be perfected in us when we die or Christ returns for us.
- The only thing that really matters to God is that we stand firm in the true message of the Gospel, and that our faith is demonstrated by our love for Him and for others. That’s it.
Your list of do’s and don’ts
So what are you looking to for righteousness? Doing more good things than bad things? Attending church regularly? Wearing the right clothes to church? Using the right translation of the Bible? Attending a traditional worship service – because of course you know that’s more spiritual? Attending a contemporary service – because of course you know that’s more spiritual?
What things have you been clinging to that are really just a form of religion? Your own personal list of do’s and don’ts. I’d encourage you, along with Paul, to let go of those things and learn to live in the freedom that is ours through Jesus Christ.
(And in case you were wondering, we’re not talking about issues of sin here. Sin is still sin. Jesus’ death on the cross didn’t all the sudden make sinful things holy. And Paul goes on in Galatians to explain that our freedom in Christ is not an excuse to sin. But that’s a topic for another blog.)