October 15, 2012 – Devotion Sharing (Galatians 3)

Submitted by Michelle Y. from Gracepoint Riverside Church

Galatians 3:1-5

Apostle Paul asks some rhetorical questions here expressing his frustration that though the Galatians were clearly saved, and given other spiritual blessings, through the “Spirit”—i.e., it was entirely the work of God through grace—they are now trying to live out the Christian life by “human effort.”  (Note: the words “human effort” here should not be misunderstood to refer to any kind of human effort at all.  E.g., Apostle Paul says in chapter 6:9-10, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”  These, and many other words of exhortation in the Bible fully assume that we are expected to exert effort to obey them.  In this context, however, Paul is talking about “human effort” to attain what has already been given to believers through the work of Christ, namely, our salvation.)  

Christians who understand that their own salvation was purely by the grace of God nonetheless can become very performance-oriented in the conduct of their Christian lives.  In other words, they start out with grace, but end up in legalism.  What human tendencies lead people to become this way?

I think the human tendency that is at play here is our pride.  At first, the gospel sounds like good news because we are completely forgiven and granted grace and told that we are saved not of our own accord but simply because God has chosen us and loved us.  But, sure enough, soon our human pride comes alive again and tries to assert itself.  The truth that we are wretched and hopeless sinners who are incapable of doing anything good doesn’t sit well with our pride which thinks that there is still some hope and that we are capable of doing some good things.  We don’t like the idea that we can’t do anything to earn salvation and that we are completely dependent on God and his grace.  Thus, what happens is that we try to do good works and think that this will earn us righteousness.  We turn to legalism so that our pride and ego are satisfied, and we feel like we can offer up at least something to God and aren’t completely and utterly hopeless.

I can relate to this legalistic approach to God very well.  Though intellectually I know that God grants me grace and that I don’t have to do anything to earn salvation, in my daily actions I end up living by works.  I constantly find myself running around and doing a lot of acts of service in order to gain that approval and righteousness from God, thinking that these deeds will earn me brownie points.  This is a very miserable approach to God because inevitably I find myself tired and burnt out.  It is tragic that I always end up resorting to this way of life, especially when God again and again tells me that his grace is more than sufficient for me and that he loves me and accepts me simply because I am his child and not because of anything that I do.  I realize that it is my ugly pride that always causes me to be legalistic and that there is this stubborn refusal in me to humbly admit that I can’t do anything good, that I am this ugly and wretched that God’s grace is the only thing that can save me.  As I look at my life situation right now, I am thankful that God is leading me through a period where I am really learning to just depend on his grace and not my own works.  As a new mom, I have been very busy taking care of my son, and in many ways I have become limited because I can’t do everything that I used to do.  Before being a parent, I was always free and available to do things like give rides to students, help cook for dinners, go food shopping, stay up late to help plan for an upcoming event, etc.  Now, as a parent I always have to think about babysitting and at times this means that I can’t go out and do everything that I want to because I have this baby to attend to.  At first, this change really grated against my pride because I wanted to feel useful, I wanted to earn my stay through all these acts of service.  However, I have been learning to see that this new circumstance in my life is really a blessing and that God is using it to shape me.  Because of my new life circumstances, I am forced to learn to just receive God’s grace and recognize that this is more than sufficient, that I can’t add to this through my good works and that I am loved simply for who I am.

The Galatians were now engaged in trying to be “perfected by the flesh”—i.e., they were trying to gain perfection through their physical effort.  What paradigm shift needs to occur in my relationship with God, if I am very accustomed to being a goal-oriented person who attains desired goals through my efforts?  Are there some ways in which I am importing this self-effort-driven goal orientation into my Christian life?

The paradigm shift that needs to occur is that we need to stop having this hope and confidence in self, thinking that we are still capable of doing good and that we can perfect ourselves.  If I think that I can attain my desired goals through my own efforts, I still haven’t fully believed and accepted the truth that we are utterly wretched and hopeless sinners.  I still think that I have power within me to perfect myself, that if I only work hard enough, I can accomplish it.  Instead of coming to God as a broken sinner and being utterly amazed by his amazing grace and love, I come to him with this self-confidence and pride, thinking that I still have something to offer and that while his grace is a great gift, it isn’t the greatest news in my life.

I think I try to import this self-effort-driven goal orientation into my Christian life when it comes to trying to overcome my sins.  One of my perennial sins is my lack of love for people and failure to be empathetic towards them.  Again and again, I see this sin come out in my relationships, and I see how I am so self-centered and ultimately only love myself.  When I am faced with situations where my lack of love is clearly pointed out, I confess and repent and then resolve to not be like this again and tell myself to be more mindful of people and to focus on them instead of self.  However, this is very short lived because soon enough I find myself falling back into the same sin and failing to love the people around me.  Instead of trying to perfect myself through my own resolve, I need to go through this paradigm shift and really see that this selfish, loveless person is just the reality of who I am.  Instead of always being surprised and shocked when yet another instance of my lack of love is pointed out, I should accept this as a norm and admit that this is who I am.  And, instead of employing self-driven efforts to change myself, I need to finally come to God and ask him for a new heart.

Galatians 3:6-9

Reflect on the words: “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” How does this radically change my identity, and how I see my relationship to the people of the world?  

These words radically change my identity because instead of just living my own little selfish and uninspiring life, I am now called to be a source of blessing to the nations.  These words tell me that God wants to use me as his instrument to transform this broken world.  These words are very hopeful because I can come out of my “little old me” complex and realize that I have a purpose and calling in life, that I am here on earth so that others can be blessed.  Also, these words change my relationship with other people of this world because instead of just being complete strangers, I now see myself as obligated to them, that God wants me to have something to do with them.  Instead of just living my own selfish life attending to my own needs and agenda, I am now called to care for other people and notice their needs and bless them through sharing the good news with them.

As I look at my life today, I see how these words have become a reality in me.  Before being a Christian, I used to live this selfish and uninspiring life, only caring for myself and trying to exalt myself in this world.  I didn’t care about other people and merely saw them as competitors.  I didn’t have any sense of obligation or responsibility towards other people outside of my nuclear family.  Now, however, after becoming a Christian, I have this new identity and God has called me to love his people.  My life now takes on much greater meaning and purpose because I am trying to bring God’s lost children back to Him and trying to share the good news of salvation with them.  I now claim these complete strangers as my own and choose to get involved in their lives because I recognize that these are God’s precious children.  Instead of having this “little old me” complex, I now recognize that I am God’s valuable instrument and that I really bear the good news that will bring great blessing onto other people.

Submitted by Jammy Y. from Gracepoint Riverside Church

Galatians 3:1-5

Christians who understand that their own salvation was purely by the grace of God nonetheless can become very performance-oriented in the conduct of their Christian lives.  In other words, they start out with grace, but end up in legalism.  What human tendencies lead people to become this way?

It’s an unfortunate picture that a Christian can go from recognizing how his salvation was purely by the grace of God to feeling somehow they need to now earn their way through Christian life.  The latter of understanding of Christian life shouldn’t follow the former, but it does, and as this question asks, I think the human tendencies that cause a person to be this way are things like pride and ego, especially the guys, wanting praise and approval from people, a desire to feel significant in this world, being results oriented, and probably, simply put, forgetfulness.

When I think about my own life I know that I have this strong pull and desire to prove my worth, prove that I can hang and handle Christian life, but what happens is that I become so focused on works because these are the tangible things that I can point to so that I can say, “See here’s what I’ve done for God.”  I think another human tendency that causes us to become legalistic about conducting our Christian lives is that we shy away from and refuse to own up to or consider our character flaws, or areas of our lives that we’re ashamed. It’s that feeling of I don’t measure up to other people in this area or that area of Christian life and so instead of embracing that, we want to show that we do measure up through becoming legalistic about certain things we’ve chosen to be legalistic about.  I think one other reason we can become legalistic is that we have this sense of unfairness as we live out our Christian lives.  There’s a sense of if I have to do this then you have to do this, and I think for a such a person like this, the issue probably runs deeper in the sense that they’ve already forgotten why they’re doing what they’re doing, but there’s a lack of joy in serving and loving God and everything just becomes needing to follow rules so that you can keep up and maintain your image before other people.

The Galatians were now engaged in trying to be “perfected by the flesh”—i.e., they were trying to gain perfection through their physical effort.  What paradigm shift needs to occur in my relationship with God, if I am very accustomed to being a goal-oriented person who attains desired goals through my efforts?  Are there some ways in which I am importing this self-effort-driven goal orientation into my Christian life?

To move away from being a goal-oriented person who attains desired goals through my efforts, the paradigm shift that I needed to have in my relationship with God is to see first and foremost that it didn’t have to be this way, and that gratitude should simply fill my life that my relationship with God is restored.   With the beginning of Fall outreach in Riverside the last two weeks, this actually has been on my mind, as I know I’m a very self-effort and goal driven person.  With all the difficulties we ran into, and trying to do outreach in new and creative ways, and also with leading upperclassmen who are for the most part getting involved for the first time doing outreach, and staff that I’m mentoring, I sensed in me a lot of this drive to simply focus on what was on my plate and what I needed to accomplish.  There were thoughts of I need to get this done and that done, but this time around I was thankful that I got to approach this Fall Quarter differently.  What was more on my mind this time around was this paradigm shift of simply feeling gratitude and being thankful for my relationship with God, the fact that we’re out here in Riverside doing meaningful work, and that I get this privilege to serve God.  My life is full of so many riches because of my relationship with God, and because of that I wasn’t so focused on making mistakes or being perfect, but rather trying to do things out of love.

Galatians 3:6-9

Reflect on the words: “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” How does this radically change my identity, and how I see my relationship to the people of the world?  

Growing up the sphere of my concern was quite small.  It was basically my family, my closest friends and me. But even within this sphere of concern I never saw myself as one that could affect people or have any influence.  In regards to the people of the world my attitude was what did I have to do with them, or it was more like, what do they have to do with me.   After becoming Christian, I slowly began to grow in my heart for people, opening up my life in trying to get to know others and looking for opportunities to share the gospel.  People mattered more, especially as I began to understand God’s heart and how He grieves for the lost.  This phrase that, “In you shall all nations be blessed,” really challenges me to take my life that much more seriously.  It even gives me a sense of hope, and a sense of greater purpose that I can be used in this kind of way to bless people.  It’s easy for me to focus so much on my inadequacies and my shortcomings, but I think this would offend God for me to view myself in this way.  It would offend God because of all that He did for me, sending his one and only son to die on the cross for me, to redeem me, and to offer the free gift of salvation eternal life.  As I think about how we’re starting our third year out here in Riverside, it’s amazing how God’s entrusted to me this good work to do.  I have an opportunity to be a blessing to those around me, to the staff I’m mentoring, the upperclassmen I’m ministering to and to all those who have been coming through our doors.  As I stay faithful to his calling in my life, God’s going to work through me, and as He promises, I’m going to have that opportunity to be a blessing to those around me.  What a privilege and honor that God has given me to have this kind of affect on people.

Personal Prayer

Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for your free gift of salvation, for rescuing me and picking me up out of that state of living a meaningless life without any purpose, full of just myself, and stuck in my sins.  Thank you for giving me this awesome privilege to serve you and to become your ambassador.  Father, help me to never forget where I came from, and how I’m so undeserving of all that you’ve blessed me with.  Lord, as I continue to serve you and love the people you’ve entrusted me with, help me to not lose focus and deviate from living by grace each day.  Lord, give me the eyes to see people the way you see people.  Please destroy and rid of the pride, ego and selfishness that often corrupt how I attempt to love people.  Lord, I want to honor you and glorify you and become a blessing to those people you’ve place around me and to even those I don’t know of.  These things, I pray in Jesus name, Amen.

Submitted by Brian W. from Gracepoint Riverside Church

Galatians 3:1-5

Christians who understand that their own salvation was purely by the grace of God nonetheless can become very performance-oriented in the conduct of their Christian lives.  In other words, they start out with grace, but end up in legalism.  What human tendencies lead people to become this way?

Even after experiencing grace, knowing that our lives are in a completely ruined wreck yet in that God accepted us, it’s easy to default back to the “world’s standards” of earning our place and our keep, removing grace from the picture of Christian life.  It’s an appeal to human pride, a desire to claim a piece of Christian life as something that I’ve earned, something that I deserve, because in every other arena of life, that’s just how we earn our significance: at work, in school, even socially we work hard to be funny, to be a useful contributor of society and in all those things it’s our way of climbing some sort of ladder of significance.  The problem is in order to further highlight any of these accomplishments I would ultimately have to denigrate any persons who have not reached that same status: “Hey I’ve studied hard, I’ve worked hard, learned a lot of skills, and because of that I’m where I am today, and if you haven’t reached this level it just means you haven’t worked hard enough.”  It’s a desire to be above others in some way–but when imported into Christian life, it twists the very fundamental truth of the Gospel when it comes to salvation, that by no merit of my own could I ever save myself.

As I reflect on some realities going into this year, I am now five years out of college–more years out of college doing ministry than being in college, and the reality is a lot of things that I wasn’t good at before, but I am a lot better at now–and there is a temptation to simply depend on those accolades in such a way that the Judaizers and the Pharisees did.  The message then that can send is, “if you don’t live up to this kind of standard, then you aren’t truly Christian.”  And lot of it isn’t necessarily to not do anything at all, but to again to emphasize again what Paul is echoing again and again in this passage…. “did you earn the Spirit,” or “did Abraham earn righteousness,” and the answer is a resounding “No!”  Firstly, my life was headed so much in the wrong direction – I would’ve ended like that group of friends I hung around looking for fun through alcohol, games and relationships, or my ambition to succeed would’ve poisoned me to drive away all my relationships. Secondly, the reality is that I am still a sinner no matter how long I’ve been Christian – day in and day out I fail when I give into my arrogant pride or fall into temptations.   And this is the Gospel – that I am here not by my own merit; and as hard as I may try I am still at the core a sinner and in need of God’s saving grace: and just the importance of being remind of this testimony of how I was save is going to keep me humble from ever thinking I ever got here on my own, or if I have even reach the standard of perfection God would’ve wanted.

The Galatians were now engaged in trying to be “perfected by the flesh”—i.e., they were trying to gain perfection through their physical effort.  What paradigm shift needs to occur in my relationship with God, if I am very accustomed to being a goal-oriented person who attains desired goals through my efforts?  Are there some ways in which I am importing this self-effort-driven goal orientation into my Christian life?

Again self-driven perfection comes from a desire to appear strong, self-reliant, and ironically more and more absent from God.  To find pride in picking up different skills to be handier or better cook, or effect of meeting a lot of students, or even just finding this self-congratulatory significance in thinking that I’ve been able to overcome some sin in my life – these things just become things to puff up my own pride.  Of course it’s not to completely divorce anything of God from human action, nor to say to do these things are bad things (actually it’s not), but what it most important is that these do not become the ends to the means of just making myself, “feel good.”

What then becomes the difference between what the Galatians do and what Apostle does is the energy in which behind these things are being done, because Apostle Paul was just as zealous and hard-working if not more than these Judaizers and his efforts would not have been considered “legalistic,” and also held those who were believers to higher standards.  And the big difference, is instead of linking things purely to human effort, to relate what we do back to God and how God would want us to see the world, and the people in it.  These efforts should not be merely for self-improvement, but done in our act of love for Christ and others: and one good gauge of this can be, are people feeling loved and cared for, or do they feel like I am merely “checking” off another thing to do on my own list of things to do.  Even this, I have been guilty of: something like making sure a sick friend has enough food and medicine, I can go about it simply as something I ought to do on my long list of things to do, and do it devoid of love and care just because I know I should just do it, and just feel good that I’ve done it instead that I really cared about that person.

Galatians 3:6-9

Reflect on the words: “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” How does this radically change my identity, and how I see my relationship to the people of the world?  

But when my life is no longer so much self-focused, it’s not about bettering myself simply for my own sake, but that this faith that God has given to me, doesn’t end simply at my own salvation, but ought to be spread to the “nations,” then things looks much different.  I can no longer be a self-righteous jerk, someone who no one would want to be around or become; my attitude in struggling against my character, my sins, becoming then something that will have a rippling effect to those I try to reach out to, or even friends and elders in the church who I can be an encouragement to rather than a detriment.  Also in the end, people are no longer competition; we are all sinners set into either believers or non-believers, and that it is again reminder that my life was never saved on my own, and it’s that same message that hopefully through the love passed down through Christ and all those who passed it down to me, I would have the kind of care to spread to others.

In the end it’s simply to see, Christianity isn’t about me and bettering myself, because that is what the Pharisees did and their lives became a curse and burden to so many people.  It’s about God and how I couldn’t have ever done it myself, and with this new life He’s given me, He wants me to be a blessing to the numerous people who still don’t know him, who are still looking for love at the end of a bottle, or in yet another failed relationship: that my life now should be that blessing to others rather than selfishly set for my own self-improvement for self-improvement sake.

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