Goodness never justified anyone. Faith does that.

by K.W. Leslie, 24 August
Galatians 3.7-9 KWL
7 So know this: Those who act out of faith?
These people are Abraham’s “children.”
8 The scripture foresees how God deems righteous
the gentile peoples who act out of faith:
He pre-evangelized Abraham, saying,
“All the peoples will be blessed through you.” Ge 12.3, 18.18, 22.18
9 So those who act out of faith
are blessed alongside Abraham’s faith.
Previously:
  • “By Law we’re good as dead—so live for Jesus!” Ga 2.17-21
  • “How’d you get from grace to legalism?” Ga 3.1-4
  • Abraham’s faith. Ga 3.5-6
  • Too many Christians believe in some form of dispensationalism—where God has multiple systems for how to be saved. I’ve lost count of how many times people have told me, “God saves us by his grace now, but in Old Testament times, you had to obey the Law.”

    No you didn’t. Because that’s not why the LORD saved the Hebrews from Egypt. It’s not why God appeared to Moses—years before he ever gave Moses the Law to follow; years before Moses even knew there was a Law. It’s not why he gave dreams to Joseph, why he gave visions to Jacob, why he straight-up appeared to Abraham and had lunch with him. Nor even why he rescued Noah and (probably) raptured Enoch.

    It was always grace. It was always God’s attitude towards the people with whom he had loving interactive relationships. It was the whole reason Paul and other apostles kept quoting the Genesis passage where the LORD justified Abraham by his faith—he wasn’t justified by being a Law-abiding Jew, because there was no Law yet. Nor Jews.

    Yet thanks to dispensationalists, I still hear people insisting grace is a New Testament thing, not an Old Testament thing. Every so often I’ll talk about where we see grace in the Old Testament, and somebody pipes up, “But grace came through Jesus Christ.” Jn 1.17 They don’t mean (as John did in that reference) Jesus makes grace possible throughout human history, including Old Testament times; they mean there was no such thing as grace before Jesus came around. That the people of the OT never experienced grace. Obviously they missed the entire point of the Exodus.

    Nor have they read and understood Paul. He never taught dispensationalism. Doesn’t matter how many proof texts dispys will use from Paul’s letters to back their ideas: They’re not using a single one in context. Paul taught salvation came by grace. Always had. Always will. Came by grace to Abraham; came by grace to the Hebrews; came by grace to the Jews; comes by grace to the gentiles.

    And to prove his case to the Pharisees in Galatia who claimed the new gentile Christians had to first follow the Law before they could be saved, Paul didn’t even have to quote Jesus; he quoted the very same Law which dispensationalists claim is about justification by works. The Old Testament scriptures “testify of me,” Jesus said, Jn 5.39 KJV so why shouldn’t we quote ’em for evidence? As Paul did repeatedly.

    If dispensationalists are right, and the Law had ever been a legitimate means to salvation, Paul would’ve gone an entirely different tack. He’d have used the very same line dispys try to use on me: “That’s old covenant. We live under the new covenant.” (Oh, and don’t forget the condescending tone.)

    But you’ve been reading my Galatians posts, right? (Hope so.) So you know Paul used no such argument; not even close. It’s “How’d you switch gospels?” Ga 1.6-7 It’s that if anyone teaches salvation comes any other way than God’s grace, ban them. Ga 1.8-9 Quit letting ’em teach!

    Did you get supernatural power through the Law?

    Lemme quote two previous verses in this chapter.

    Galatians 3.2 KWL
    I want to learn only this from you:
    Do you receive the Spirit by working the Law,
    or by hearing and trusting?
     
    Galatians 3.5 KWL
    The one who provides the Spirit to all of you,
    who works acts of power among you—
    does he do this out of you working the Law,
    or out of hearing and trusting?

    See, when the Galatians became Christian, same as everyone who becomes Christian, they received the Holy Spirit. How’d they know they received the Spirit?—how does any of us? Well hopefully, good fruit; but among the ancient Christians, and among continuationists still, he starts doing stuff. Stuff which Paul in verse 5 called ἐνεργῶν δυνάμεις ἐν ὑμῖν/energón dynámeis en ymín, “working powers among you.” The KJV went with “worketh miracles among you,” ’cause the Spirit’s acts of power are obviously miracles.

    Yep, the Galatians were seeing miracles. The Spirit was talking to them in their prayers and teaching them stuff, enabling prophecy, curing their sick, answering prayers, multiplying resources; stuff like Jesus did, and like Spirit-empowered Christians still do today. He wasn’t passively indwelling them, and if you imagine that’s all he does, maybe you oughta start listening to him. He’s very helpful!

    Now, what event brought the Holy Spirit into their lives? Did they finally do enough good deeds to tip the karmic scales in a direction the Spirit approves of? Did they finally believe enough of the correct doctrines to make the Spirit give ’em a passing grade? What had they done to merit the Spirit?

    Pharisees were insisting the gentile Christians get circumcised. Was that the sacrament which brought the Spirit into our lives? Once you saw off that foreskin, you can speak in tongues? (Well, I guarantee some loud noise will come out of you.)

    Thing is, before the gentiles had ever done anything of merit, God granted them his Spirit, and acts of power were happening in their church. Despite them wholly understanding what was going on. Despite them not yet knowing how to be good Christians, and exhibit the fruit of goodness—which is the result of having the Holy Spirit in us. Not the cause!

    Yep, while we were yet sinners, the Holy Spirit came to indwell us. Despite all the bad theology we still had at the time. Despite, contrary to popular belief, some of the bad theology we still have sometimes. I’ve seen unitarians pray for God to cure the sick, and he did. Because he will.

    I know. Plenty of Christians—including those of us who preach grace!—claim God would never do miracles for heretics, and won’t do miracles for sinners. A few years ago I read something by E.M. Bounds in which he claimed God won’t answer prayers when we’re sinning. Does he have any bible to back up his belief? He didn’t offer any. I could think of a few verses which might suggest the idea, like when the LORD wouldn’t return Saul ben Kish’s messages. 1Sa 28.6 But Saul’s an extreme example; the king had ignored and disobeyed God for so long, what was the point in God telling him anything? Dude was apostate. Whereas we Christians, I would hope, are far away from apostasy when we sin. Our relationships with God may suck, but we never quit him, and I hope we never do.

    But this just goes to show how deeply karma is embedded in humanity. We insist everything oughta be based on merit, and pitch a fit when it’s not. And we even insist God’s kingdom run on merit as well. Not grace—which is the only way Jesus runs it. We don’t deserve God’s kingdom any more than a spoiled trust-fund kid deserves to squander her dad’s hard-earned money on cocaine and nightclubs. But we have much the same relationship with our Father, who grants us much the same grace as a father who unconditionally loves his spoiled daughter no matter what she does. Complain all you want about how he’s far too lenient with her. Lk 15.25-32 But don’t forget he's just as lenient to you.

    Contrary to what karma-based thinking would insist, answered prayer and miracles do not mean God endorses the petitioner or miracle-worker. God has his own will. He’ll do what he does either with us, or in spite of us. Paul indicated in 1 Corinthians it’s entirely possible to do miracles without good fruit, and more than likely you’ve seen fruitless Christians of all sorts who can nonetheless act in the Spirit’s power. I’ve met prophets who are obnoxious jerks. As Paul warned, it does drive people away from listening to them, 1Co 13.1 but it doesn‘t negate the fact the Spirit can and probably does speak through them.

    Y’see, every human is a flawed creature. Us included, naturally. If the Spirit couldn’t bring himself to empower anyone but perfect people, he’d empower no one. And while we humans might have standards and levels for whom we’d deem worthy of miracles (based on karma, of course), the Spirit lumps us all in the same bunch. Every last one of us is a screw-up in one way or another. But the Spirit is willing to work with screw-ups to achieve his will. Redeeming people is his speciality.

    Cursed by the very Law they claim saves them.

    As Paul asked twice, was the Spirit’s activity among the Galatians the result of obeying the Law, or because they initially heard and believed? Did the Galatians get the Spirit’s power on merit?—because they were good and obedient, and earned it, and deserved it, and it’s their power to own and wield and have by right?

    I could go on, but hopefully you’ve seen how ridiculous the idea is. Nobody earns God’s power. We get it, as Jesus taught us, for one reason alone: Faith. We trust God, and when we do so God considers us righteous. The foundation of God’s relationships with anyone is faith. Not Law, not obedience; faith.

    For anyone who still insisted the Law was a factor, Paul pointed out the Law kinda bones them—but that’s in the next passage.

    Not to say it’s impossible to follow all 613 commands of the Law personally. I’m doing it right this minute. Not sure I can keep it up all day, but still. Thing is, I’ve broken the Law in the past, and probably will in the future, intentionally or not. (Hopefully not intentionally!) If I’m depending on the Law to merit anything from God, I’m an idiot.

    Job was particularly good at following it. Jb 1.8 And yet God still let Satan take a dump all over him. Not that Job’s example should discourage anyone from striving to follow God—but of all the guys you’d expect to “live his best life now,” would it be the boil-covered guy cursing his own existence, and wondering why him? Yet the Law didn’t save Job either. God did. Because Job, like his ancestor Abraham, trusted God.

    So: You wanna be right with God? You wanna see power, miracles, get your prayers answered? Then you gotta trust him. Not just obey him—and definitely obey him, and keep obeying him. But don’t put your trust in your own obedience, ’cause that’s the path to legalism and unfaith. Trust God. He’s the one who saves, cures, and empowers.