Yesterday’s Epistle in the Daily Common Lectionary was Gal 3:1-14, which is Paul’s diatribe against the Galatians concerning their “works of the Law.” As a brief aside, I have covered at great length through the years the fact that the Pauline corpus as a whole isn’t opposed works. We are “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:10). We should adorn ourselves with good works (1 Tim. 2:10). He commends others to “be rich in good works” (6:18). And of course, there is his warning about people who “profess that they know God, but in their works they deny him …”
Paul’s beef is with a very specific problem: “the works of the Law.” The culture in which Christianity began was Hebrew culture where the Old Testament system of life and sacrifices, as dictated by the Law, had become the means of appeasing God. (As Paul clearly points out, this wasn’t authentic Hebrew religion, which was actually one of faith in God, it was a bastardization of Hebrew religion.)
Reading this text yesterday I couldn’t help but think of the standard things that my fellow travelers in men’s group say about what they have to do in order to maintain their faith. If they don’t go to church … if they don’t come to men’s group every week … if they don’t take time read the Bible and pray every day … then they are no longer close to God. That’s the stuff that makes their relationship with God tick. (This is not limited to men’s group, by the way. This same attitude goes back to many years of pastoral ministry.)
It’s what Paul is talking about, except it’s clothed in a different religious culture. One might call it “the works of Feeling Good About God” or “the works of My Spiritual Pick-Me-Up.” It niggles at me that when we live this way, we’re not living by faith at all, we’re living by works (or in this case feelings) that support a sense that I’m okay with God.
I’m not okay with God because of the Hebrew Law, men’s group, daily prayer, etc. I’m okay with God because of Jesus was incarnate, lived with us, died for us, and offers life to the world. It simply requires faith to believe that fact and accept it. Don’t get me wrong. We are “created in Christ for good works,” but all of that other stuff doesn’t make me good with God; God has taken care of that. All that other stuff should be aimed very specifically at incorporating this God-given life into my being so that I am transformed into the divine life to which I’m called, or, in Paul’s words our “upward calling.” It is in Christ Jesus (and nothing else) that the blessing of Abraham comes upon us, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith (v 14). Amen.