The Great Reconciliation
In the valley I live in there are three Starbucks: one located inside a grocery store, one with a drive-thru window, and one that boasts many comfortable chairs for reading. Of these three coffee shops, I tend to set myself up at the final location where I am able to get my coffee (hello gold card), take advantage of the spacious tables, and most of all enjoy the outdoor sitting area. Should you happen to stroll into this Starbucks on any given day during the summer, you would be likely to see me there. On one sunny afternoon last week, I spent a good amount of time at that Starbucks reading Galatians 5 as a part of a little personal study I've been doing.
During my study of Galatians 5 last week, I was really hoping to journal about the chapter in its entirety, but due to being absolutely wrecked by the content, I only had enough time to write about the first six verses. Below that passage can be read:
"For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify that to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit , by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love."
When reading through the Bible it is always important to look at the bigger picture of the text through the means of understanding the original purpose of the author. In Galatians 5 we observe the Apostle Paul writing to the church in Galatia warning them of the false teachings of those that had permeated the church, seeking to discredit Paul's authority as an Apostle. As can be seen in this passage as well as in the preceding chapters (which I highly encourage you to read on your own), one of the most significant false teachings Paul was correcting in the church dealt with circumcision and the false belief that new believers needed to be circumcised in order to be counted righteous in the eyes of God. In this passage as well as in many other places in the New Testament, the example of circumcision is used as a sort of place-holder for the Jewish law. Paul uses this analogy to indicate that the system of works (circumcision and the Mosaic law) would never provide the Jewish people with righteousness as it was impossible for man to keep the whole law. Throughout the Bible, the Jewish people struggled to no avail to keep the law, failing miserably to keep the law in its entirety.
I have found it to be true that in the first verse of Galatians 5 we often focus too much on the resulting effect of Christ's death on the cross when in reality, I do not believe Paul wrote to focus on the freedom we have in Christ. In our generation's complete infatuation with the self, we have completely missed the point. What we receive as a result of Christ sacrificing Himself on the cross for our rightly deserved punishment is not the focus of the Gospel.
It is not about our freedom, but Christ's bondage to the cross.
One of my favorite authors, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, describes in his book Ethics the sending of Jesus to reconcile the world to God:
"Behold the man! In Him the world was reconciled with God. It is not by its overthrowing but by its reconciliation that the world is subdued. It is not by the ideals and programmes or by conscience, duty, responsibility and virtue that reality can be confronted and overcome, but simply and solely by the perfect love of God. Here again it is not by a general idea of love that this is achieved, but by the really lived love of God in Jesus Christ. This love of God does not withdraw from reality into noble souls secluded from the world. It experiences and suffers the reality of the world in all its hardness, The world exhausts its fury against the body of Christ. But, tormented, He forgives the world its sin. That is how the reconciliation is accomplished."
What good is freedom in Christ if we do not realize the price of that freedom, or for that matter, what we are being set free from? Through the reconciliation of the world by Jesus, He has set us free from the hopeless works system of trying to meet His standard of holiness by keeping the law, an impossible task for broken and sinful people. If salvation through a system of works was humanly possible, there would be no reason for God to send His Son in our place. To base our religion, righteousness, and spirituality on that which we are able to accomplish of our own volition is to place humanity above the God that created religion, the God that is righteous, and the God that provided man with a Spirit.
In Christ we no longer work for ourselves but work to direct all attention and glory to the One who is worthy. It is the outpouring of our hearts, so absolutely wrecked by the love and grace of God, that we rejoice in doing works to give glory to God, not as a means of displaying our holiness or earning God's favor. To even have breath in our lungs is to be favored by the Almighty.
We must always remember that while the effects of the cross and the resurrection are of eternal importance, the person of Jesus and His Gospel are the cause of those effects. Apart from Christ there is no transformation, there is no righteousness, there is no eternal life. Only in Christ are we reconciled to God, no longer seen as the broken people we once were. The scars of our sin leave a lasting impression upon our flesh but as we look to the nail-marks in His wrists and the wound in His side, we know that we are not alone in our brokenness. Through Him alone are we made new, through Him alone are we counted righteous.