THE GRACE OF GOD
The Apostle Paul wrote the book of Galatians because the Christian Jews who had begun with the Spirit, were now trying to perfect themselves by the flesh (works of the law) Gal. 3:1-3. They were not coming into an understanding of what it meant to be under the grace of God. Even today, nothing has changed that much. We have people in our churches who are genuinely being saved and receiving the Spirit; but what happens? Instead of being taught what the grace of God is, instead of being taught what faith is; they are taught to immediately go to work for God. Instead of growing in grace, the new converts become religious. Instead of being life and relationship oriented, they are performance oriented. I guess it would be hard for church leadership to teach the grace of God, when they themselves haven't been taught. It is understandable why the Jews had a hard time with grace since their entire history was being under the law. Not only that, the grace of God which is the good news of the Gospel, is such good news that it seems too good to be true (Gal. 5:1). Even in the church of today, the grace of God is still being discovered, because it seems too good to be true.
The book of Galatians is just as applicable today as it was back then because there is still not an understanding of what it means to be under the grace of God. There is still not an understanding of the freedom that God has called us to. I realize that we will spend eternity coming to understand the grace of God in its fullest sense; but while we are the body of Christ on earth; we need to get past the law in order to be an effective body. This is the Apostle's point in this book. Gal. 5:4 says: "You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace."
Coming to understand the grace of God is a process that begins and ends with humility. James 4:6 says: 'God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.' The reason why God opposes the proud is because the proud oppose him. They resist the Holy Spirit's promptings to want to reveal truth. They resist wanting to move on. They resist wanting to grow. People really are not aware of how much pride they have; or how much humility they don't have. That makes a lot of sense when you think about it. People are just not where they need to be. This is especially so today because people are complacent about their Christianity. Our Christianity is not life threatening like it was for the Apostles and the early church. Not yet anyway. God was establishing the Church and his word, and he was using persecution and hardship in the lives of the Fathers as a means of humbling them, in order for them to come into the understanding of his grace. They came to appreciate and fully understand God's grace so they could write about it for us today.
However, we are not going to understand it just by reading about it. I think the Apostles when they wrote about the grace of God in their books, assumed that we would go through the same experiences as they, and therefore learn what they learned. No, that did not happen. Not in this country anyway. We did not get anywhere near the experiences that they went through. But that is not to say that God, even though we live in this country, cannnot arrange the same type of humbling experiences, in order for us to get to where we need to be. God will also do with us as he did with the Church Fathers. It will take that. We are no different human beings than they were. Maybe a lot of us don't want to go there though. And why should we when we really don't have to. Now, you can see why it is hard to get to the grace of God. This is serious business. It is sounding very much like Jesus telling us that we have to lose our life in order to find it (Matt 16:25). We won't go that far because we don't have to.
But, for those Christians who are on this journey with Christ and truly desire to attain the fullest of what he can offer, for those Christians who refuse to settle for complacency, for those who are in this for all they can get out of it; then you will be one of those who will come to understand the fullest of God's grace. The Apostle Paul tells us that we who are the mature Christians should take this view. We should take this atttitude (Philip 3:15). Look at the Apostle's attitude (verses 7-14). The Apostle Paul got to this point in his growth as a Christian because of what God put him through. The question should be asked: What didn't God put him through? 11 Cor. 1:8-10 says: "We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us."
According to the book of Romans, the grace that we have obtained through Jesus Christ is worded as an introduction of grace in which we stand (Rom. 5:1-2). If grace has an introductory period, then that means it must have an intermediate period, and therefore an advanced or maturing period. This is implying that there is a growing in our understanding of grace. And this is exactly how the Apostle Peter ends his second epistle with the admonishment to "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (11 Pet. 3:18). Growing in the grace of God will always be coupled with humility. And humility will always be coupled with extreme measures. Why would we expect it to be any different for us than what it was for the early church.
A way to determine for ourselves that we are coming into the understanding of grace is to look at what it is that motivates us to not want to sin. Look at Titus 2:11-12: 'For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.' Is our motivation for not sinning, grace based or law based? Are we still not sinning because the law says not to; or are we not sinning because the law has done its work in our lives by leading us to the grace of God (Christ) (Gal. 3:24); and now our motivation for not sinning is because of our love for God. I want more of God than I want more of not sinning. This is what makes me be successful at not sinning. However, understand that not sinning is not an issue with God. And it is not to be a goal that we set for ourselves. The second we do that the focus of our Christianity becomes about us. We are not to have faith in ourselves. We are to have faith in Christ.
The motivation for not sinning is either grace or law. It is one or the other. There is no such thing as mixing the two. To do that constitutes being under the law. This is where the church is at today. Rom. 11:6 says: 'But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.' You cannot put new wine into old wineskins without ruining both the wine and the wineskin (Matt. 9:17). If your motivation for not sinning is through keeping the law, then you will never see days of not sinning. 1 Cor. 15:56 says: 'the power of sin is the law.' The law works like a bellow works on a fire. If you fan the fire coals with the bellow, it only intensifies the fire. Trying to not sin through the law, only intensifies the sinning. This is what the law's job is. 'For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death' (Rom. 7:5). If you put yourself under the law, then sin will be master over you (Rom. 6:14).
It says in John 1:14 that Jesus is full of grace and truth. If Jesus is full of grace and truth, and if Jesus lives inside of us, then that means we are full of grace and truth. Think about that for a minute. We already possess all the grace and truth we will ever need residing in our heart. It just hasn't all worked up to our brain yet where we do the understanding of it, where we do the processing of our decisions, where we make our convictions. Jesus is the one doing the work, and he is working to give us more and more pieces of understanding when we are ready for it (Philip. 2:13).