Of No Advantage To You

It’s kind of an “out there” type of statement. Seems a bit over the top. But then again, that’s kind of how Paul’s coming across in this letter. If the epistle to the Galatians were an email I think you’d be seeing a lot of it in ALL CAPS . . . and there’d be emoticons with scrunched up faces and wide eyes scattered liberally throughout it. Paul was “astonished” and “perplexed” because his dear children in faith acted as though they had been “bewitched.” Paul couldn’t believe that those who had put on Christ were now thinking that in order to be justified they needed to also put on their best behavior. And so Paul goes over the top. Keep it up, Paul says, and Christ is of no advantage.

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 again 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.   (Galatians 5:1-4 ESV)

Severed from Christ . . . fallen away from grace . . . the work of the cross of no advantage to you.  Pretty extreme declarations.

They had been running well (3:7), but now they were being hindered. They had believed the gospel, that Christ had been crucified to atone for their sins. By “hearing with faith” they had received the Spirit. Like Isaac, they were children of promise, offspring of the free woman, citizens of the new Jerusalem above. They had been “born according to the Spirit.” But now they were being charmed into believing that what had begun as a sovereign determination of heaven, could now be completed with the best efforts of earth. That what had begun in the Spirit could now be perfected in the flesh. That what had been declared to be an emancipation from the law could now only be fully realized by becoming again slaves to the law.

And so says Paul, if you pursue righteousness based on your best efforts . . . if the race can only be won because of your abilities and determination . . . then Christ is of no advantage to you. If you consider the justification wrought on the cross insufficient . . . if you live as though God’s acceptance is only fully found when you live up to a standard of conduct dependent on your righteous acts . . . then, in a sense, you have severed yourself from the Christ who has said He will live in you and through you . . . and you have detached yourself from the grace that is sufficient not only to save but to sanctify you as well.

Of no advantage to you.

Christ plus us, declares Paul, is nothing. Christ plus nothing? That’s everything. He is the all in all for all of salvation.

What futile bondage it is to live out our Christian lives thinking that somehow it’s up to our best efforts at holiness to be really accepted by God. It says the cross is insufficient . . . it says that the Spirit indwelling us needs help . . . it says that Christ’s imputed righteousness is a garment that needs to enhanced by our works.

Crazy, says Paul.

Might we, as God’s people, stand firm in the freedom for which Christ has set us free. Might we pursue godliness not because it’s required and we need to buckle down. Instead, might we pursue godliness as a loving and worship-induced response, knowing He has already raised us up . . . “and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:6).

All because of grace. All dependent upon grace. All for His glory.

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