Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? – Vs 3
You may feel like I have a one-track mind, but I can't help but notice that Paul is driving home this works-righteousness issue again. He is hammering home to the Galatians that they can't allow what they began by faith to turn into some experiment in the power of human effort. It seems that these people were buying into the idea that if they could somehow keep the Law, along with their faith in Christ, they would be pleasing to God. They had bought into the lie that they could make themselves righteous just by keeping a set of rules. So Paul literally screams at them "Are you so foolish?" Have you lost your mind? What are you thinking? I like the way this verse reads in the New Living Translation: Have you lost your senses? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?"
They had started in the Spirit, but were trying to finish what God had begun in their own self-effort. But don't we do the same thing? We place our faith in Christ. We acknowledge that we can't save ourselves. We recognize that salvation is through faith alone in Christ alone. We add nothing to the equation. But then we somehow think that's where the grace ends and our effort begins. He saves us, but we have to sanctify ourselves. We have to discover the right set of rules to keep in order to become truly righteous. And there are always plenty of people ready and willing to tell us what the rules are. In Paul's day, it was the Judaizers. In our day, it's well-intentioned individuals who have failed to understand that our spiritual growth is a work of God, not man. So they come up with their own list of rules and regulations to keep. They decide what the actions and activities of a godly person look like and then lay those expectations on all those they meet. They even attempt to model this kind of life. They are busy for God. They work out their faith with fear and trembling. They have quiet times, pray a lot, serve even more, memorize scripture, go to Bible studies, and try to eliminate anything of a worldly nature from their lives. But in spite of all this, many of them lack joy and peace. They smile a lot and praise God in all things, but behind their mask of super spirituality is a person who feels they can't do enough to please God. So they work harder and do more. Why? Because they have been led to believe that spirituality is all about doing. It is behavior-based. And because they are stuck on this treadmill of human achievement, they invite others to join them, because they don't want to be alone.
But Paul reminds us, "For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus" (Vs 26). I don't have to earn sonship, I already have it. I don't have to do anything to merit God's favor, it's already mine. He LOVES me! Yet how easily we buy into the lie that God is somehow displeased with us and demanding more from us.
This distortion has kept us tied down, guilt-ridden, weary, lonely and isolated from each other. We've seen God as disgusted by our failures and have been left trying to somehow earn our way back into His favor. Most of us sadly came to believe that while we are justified through faith by grace, somehow we must mature and heal by some other means. We have become the "buck up" people. And though it hasn't worked, we didn't know another way. So, we've just learned to try harder. But the day of self-righteous, religious performing for cheap applause truly is coming to an end. It has brought us nothing but enhanced skils in hiding, proving, striving, posturing and bluffing. Many of us, all over the world, have grown desperately tired of it. - Two Roads, Two Rooms, Bill Thrall, Bruce McNicol, and John Lynch
Have you lost your senses? Have you bought into the lie that more is required of you before God will love you? Do you think that God has left it up to you to become what He expects you to be? Is your spiritual maturity your responsibility? If so, then Paul's message is for you. You are trying to "become perfect by human effort." And the result of all that effort will always be disappointment and defeat. Because true spiritual transformation is a work of the Spirit, not the flesh. Only He can change us. And until we recognize that reality and begin to live in it, we will never enjoy the peace of knowing "that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 1:6).
Father, keep reminding me that Your grace is enough. Forgive me for the times I begin to believe that it is all up to me. It shows up in all my busyness and self-effort. I somehow think that I have to do more. I have to work harder. And I fail to rest in the fact that you are perfecting me in spite of me. I know I have a part to play. I can't just sit back and do nothing. I know I need to read Your Word. I know prayer needs to become a more significant part of my life. But I also know that anything I do, apart from the power of Your Holy Spirit, will accomplish nothing. Bring me to my senses. Help me remember that You love me and that You are making me into the likeness of Your Son. Amen