By My Own Strength

photo by: Ian Britton

photo by: Ian Britton

I’ve been thinking a lot about the message I heard in church on Sunday.  Pastor Mike continued his messages through Galatians.  This week was on Galatians 5:7-15.  The message was a good one, and like so many times when I feel like God is trying to get through to me, it touched close to home.  Galatians chapter 5 is on the freedom, or in some translations, the liberty that we have in Christ.

Paul, writing to the church at Galatia, was concerned that legalism was working it’s way back into the gospel.  Legalism, was the attempt of the church to gain righteousness by its own merit.  In question here was the act of circumcision.  Paul essentially says in verse 3, “If you insist on being circumcised for justification, then you’re also saying that you’re seeking justification by trying to keep the law, and if that’s the case, you’d better keep the whole law.”  This thinking clearly troubled Paul because this thinking was a step backwards for the Galatian church.  In verse 7 Paul asks,” What happened?  You guys were doing well.  You were running the race.  Why now are you stumbling?”  He goes on in verse 11 to explain, “If I were still teaching you that fulfilling the law was important, then why am I still be persecuted for the message i’m preaching?   If the message of the cross was all about living a good life, then it wouldn’t be offensive to those who hear it.”

It’s important to remember that Paul used to be on the other side of this argument.  When Paul was Saul there is no question that he was zealous about circumcision and the fulfillment of the law.  Paul was the one doing the persecuting.  However, as soon as Paul entered into ministry his persecution for the gospel began (2 Corinthians 11:32).  His point here is that if the gospel of Christ was all about trying to follow a set of rules, people wouldn’t find it offensive and he wouldn’t still be persecuted for his message because it would essentially be the same message he was so zealous about when he was still known as Saul.  But here, Paul’s message is very different than his younger years.  Verses 4-6  read:

You you 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 Spirt the righteousness for which we hope.  For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcised has any value.  The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

Did you catch that last part.  THE ONLY thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.  But what does that mean?  In verse 14, Paul says this: “The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself””.  Wait a second, didn’t Paul just say not to try to fulfill the law.  Now he’s trying to command us to love other people?  And didn’t Jesus say that the most important command is to love the Lord your God with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength in Mark chapter 12?  Let’s take these one at a time:

In this passage, I don’t believe Paul is in any way commanding us to love our neighbor.  I’m not saying we shouldn’t.  Just stay with me.  In Mark chapter 12, when Jesus explains that the two most important commands were to first love God, then to love your neighbor, I don’t believe He was, in any sense, commanding us to do either of those things either.  Remember, Paul writes in verse 6, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” .  The key word here, is “faith”.

As Christians, we are nothing without our faith.  Hebrews 11:6:

And without faith, it is impossible to please God.

The Galatians were trying to please God through fulfilling the law through circumcision.  It wasn’t going to work.  If Paul were commanding us to love our neighbor, that would just be one more thing for us to “try”, and like everything else we try to do by our own strength, we will fail.  That’s not going to work either.  The solution?  Faith.

As humans, we can do nothing by our own strength.  We can’t try to follow a list of rules or we will fail.  We can’t try to love others or we will fail.  I submit, that we can’t even love God by our own strength.  If we try, we will fail.

We love because He first loved us.  — 1 John 4:19

The only reason we are even capable of loving is because God first showed love to us.  It’s through faith in Jesus Christ that we have the empowerment to show love to both God and to our neighbor, but not by our own strength, rather through the strength we receive through the Spirit.

Romans 13:10 says this: “Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law.”  Do you see?  It all falls together so perfectly.  It’s only through our faith in Jesus that we even have the capacity to love the Lord.  (The greatest commandment).

…if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.  — 1 John 4:12

When God lives in us, we have the ability to love others (The second commandment) .  It’s for this reason that Paul tells us in verse 14 that the entire law is summed up in the command, “Love your neighbor as yourself”.  Paul knew that if the Galatians would focus on the message of faith, the “expression” of that faith would be the love they have for each other.

I was convicted about this message.  There’s no question that God is trying to teach me something here.  How many times do we as Christians resolve to try and be better, and then end up failing?  Or how many times do we resolve to give up a sin, only to fall right back in?  And how many times to we resolve to love someone, only to let that someone down?  I know this has been true for me.  The key here is that we can’t try.  We can’t keep trying to do things by our own strength.  It’s impossible to please God by our own strength.  We need to be faithful and we need to let Jesus live through us by the Spirit.  For it’s “…by faith that we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope.” (verse 5)

 

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