Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: "Love your neighbor as yourself." – Galatians 5:13-14 NLT
When we become obsessed with earning favor with God or attempting to keep His righteous standards in our own strength, we end up self-obsessed. That kind of life can be totally self-centered, restricting us from loving others and pouring out our lives to them. Instead, we can end up seeing them as competition, causing us to find fault in them so that we can feel better about ourselves. We can heap them with guilt, demanding that they keep the same exactly standards that we have set for ourselves, causing them to be just as miserable with life as we are. Slavery to the law is debilitating. It robs us of joy. It is dead-end road that leads nowhere. But as Paul reminds us, Christ has truly set us free, but if we try to make ourselves right with God by keeping the law, we end up being cut off from Christ. In other words, we negate His saving work on our behalf and replace it with our own powerless attempt to save ourselves by some form of rule-keeping. Our righteousness comes through faith, not works. Once again, Paul states plainly, "For through the Spirit, by faith, we wait expectantly for the hope of righteousness" (Galatians 5:5 NLT). We already have what is called "positional" righteousness. Because of Christ's death, we have been covered in His blood and are seen as righteous in God's eyes. He views us through the righteousness of Christ. But we are also in the process of being transformed into the likeness of Christ, through the presence of the indwelling Spirit and the power of the Word of God. We are becoming righteous in practice. But it is a process that takes place over time, and it is still the work of God. Paul puts it this way: "we wait expectantly for the hope of righteousness." One day we will be like Christ. It won't happen in this lifetime. But it will be when Christ calls us home or returns for His Church. That is our hope. And it is based on the work of the Spirit and available only through faith.
This does not mean that we have nothing to do or that we can live our lives as we see fit. Paul is not against effort, but he stands completely opposed to earning. Paul tells us elsewhere to "work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear" (Philippians 2:12 NLT). In writing to the believers in Corinth Paul stated, "I don't meant to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me" (Philippians 3:12 NLT). Then he makes his famous statement: "I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us" (Philippians 3:14 NLT). Paul pursued practical righteousness in his life, but he knew that full righteousness would only come about when his time on earth was done. Like his salvation, his righteousness was ultimately the work of God, made possible through the death of Christ.
So what's the point of all this? For Paul, it was that we would understand our freedom in Christ. But not only are we free from having to earn God's favor through the law, we are free to love one another. The greatest expression of our new-found freedom in Christ is found in our love for those around us. No more competition or comparison. No more measuring ourselves against one another or attempting to outdo one another for God's love and attention. This is not a contest. We are not siblings vying for the favor and attention of our parent. Rather than serve ourselves in an effort to elevate our standing, we are free to serve one another. Remember how the disciples seemed to be constantly obsessed with who was the greatest? They were vying for positions of prominence in Jesus' coming kingdom. They wanted places of prominence and power. So they jockeyed for position. The same thing can happen with us as believers today. But Paul tells us "use your freedom to serve on another in love" (Galatians 5:13b NLT). We are free to love, not compete. We are free to serve, not be served. We are free to put others first and ourselves last. Because our place in God's Kingdom has been secured by Christ. We don't have to do anything to fight for or earn our rights or secure our place. We are free to spend our time loving others. If someone else gets the credit, no problem. If no one notices our efforts, it doesn't matter. We aren't trying to earn favor with God anyway. We're free!
Father, this is such a hard concept to get our heads around. We live in a society that is steeped in the idea of earning and effort. We have grown up with phrases like, "No pain, no gain." We have been told "there's no free lunch," "the early bird gets the worm," and "to the victor go the spoils." We struggle with the idea that our salvation and even our sanctification are totally the work of Christ and have nothing to do with us. But help us to fully understand and appreciate the joy that comes with knowing that we are free from having to earn favor with You. No more performance-based motivation. No more competing with one another. No more jockeying for position. We are loved by You because of Christ. And we are free to love others. Amen.