Well into Galatians. Reading the first part of chapter 4 this morning. And Paul continues to go for broke in calling these Galatians back to Christ alone by grace alone. You know how big a deal this is by how over the top Paul has been.
Paul says he can’t wrap his head around their desertion of the gospel (1:6). He curses anyone, even angels, who would dare to add to the gospel formula: Christ + Nothing = Salvation Past, Salvation Present, and Salvation Future. He’s defended his ministry (1:11-2:10), rebuked Peter & Co. for behavior un-becoming the gospel (2:11-14), and personally testified of his own determination to do nothing, nor to boast in anything, that would “nullify the grace of God” (2:21). He’s called the Galatians fools and said it’s like they’ve been bewitched (3:1). Your not thinking straight, he says. Give your head a shake, he says, what’s happened to you is by the Spirit of God–do you think perfecting it will now happen through your own effort (3:2-3)? And he hasn’t yet got to the part about wishing the purveyors of this faith-plus-works gospel would slip up with their circumcision knives and “cut themselves off” (5:12 NKJV).
Like I said, a little over the top. Must be a big deal.
Paul’s been very particular with his words in order to make his point. And I notice that again this morning:
Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?
(Galatians 4:8-9 ESV)
“When did you believe?” we often ask. How did you come to know Christ? Fair enough questions. Each of us has a story. And also fair enough that when we tell our story we’re at the center of it. But lest we think we know God because of what we eventually did, Paul reminds us that it’s only because of what God determined first to do–to know us. Or, as John puts it, “We love because He first loved us” (1Jn. 4:19). Or, as Jesus makes even more explicit:
You did not choose Me, but I chose you . . . ” (John 15:16a ESV)
If we think that our acquaintance with God is owing to ourselves then perhaps we might also be deceived to thinking that, just as we decided to come to Christ, we can decide also how to grow in Christ. That if it’s because of our smarts that we recognized the truth, then we’ll rely on our brains to navigate how to grow in that truth. That if we think we initiated the relationship, then we might also be prone to think we have the right to direct the relationship.
Ahhh . . . no! says Paul.
If God knew us–not just in the general God knows everything about everybody sense, but in the He knew me in particular sense (like in Psalm 139)–and if God called us into this grace equation, then, asks a confused Paul, how can you turn back to being enslaved by things of the dictates of your flesh and the ways of this world? Turning back is giving God your back. Give your head a shake!
Seeing ourselves as captains of our own salvation ship is a sure way to become unanchored. A gimme for the devil to lead us astray. A no-brainer recipe for disaster, nullifying grace and eventually leading to falling from grace (5:4).
And what a crummy place to live, outside of grace. Looking for God’s favor through our disciplined behavior rather than His finished work on the cross. Relying on our wisdom for the worthy walk rather than surrendering to the mind of Christ as we abide in Christ. Depending on our work for approval in His way instead of His word renewing our minds and transforming us into His likeness.
To be sure, we have come to know God. But equally to be sure, it’s because He first determined to know us.
How amazing is that? Pretty amazing!
O’ to continue to walk in such amazing grace. That He might receive the everlasting glory!