By Faith

You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? Have you experienced so much in vain—if it really was in vain? So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard? So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

10 For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” 11 Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by faith.” 12 The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, “The person who does these things will live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.” 14 He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.

Galatians 3:1-14 (NIV)

For the longest period in the history of our nation, the principles and ethics of society were based on the Puritan code of conduct. One principle that governed the everyday lives of the people was the importance of self reliance. As our nation expanded to the west, self reliance aided settlers in establishing new homesteads in unsettled territories. Like all principles, there are good and bad aspects when it comes to self-reliance. The positives include independence, pride in our achievements, and obtaining a variety of skills and knowledge. Some of the negatives include an unwillingness to accept assistance, an arrogant or boastful attitude, and failure to acknowledge the contributions of others.

Paul writes to the believers in Galatia expressing disappointment in them. He is disappointed because they have begun to adopt the idea that by their own works they are justified before God. Paul reminds them that they began to believe in Jesus Christ not because they were following Jewish law but because they heard of the saving acts of Christ. Paul points out if they choose to take a self-reliant path of using their works to be justified, they will fail. Only by believing in salvation through their faith in Jesus Christ can they succeed.

Even today there are still individuals who follow an understanding that only self-reliance based on their own work can guarantee the favor of God. This leads to a constant effort to do better, be better in actions, and an adherence to a prescribed set of standards. Time and time again disappointment and a sense of constant failure accompanies the efforts of these Christians. Paul reminds us of a better way. By having faith in Christ, we can be relieved of the burden of living “good enough.” Our reliance on Christ and his saving actions eliminated our need to rely upon ourselves. Then our good works become a response of gratitude instead of a way to justify ourselves.

Hope In Despair

Hear my prayer, Lord;
    let my cry for help come to you.
Do not hide your face from me
    when I am in distress.
Turn your ear to me;
    when I call, answer me quickly.

For my days vanish like smoke;
    my bones burn like glowing embers.
My heart is blighted and withered like grass;
    I forget to eat my food.
In my distress I groan aloud
    and am reduced to skin and bones.
I am like a desert owl,
    like an owl among the ruins.
I lie awake; I have become
    like a bird alone on a roof.
All day long my enemies taunt me;
    those who rail against me use my name as a curse.
For I eat ashes as my food
    and mingle my drink with tears
10 because of your great wrath,
    for you have taken me up and thrown me aside.
11 My days are like the evening shadow;
    I wither away like grass.

12 But you, Lord, sit enthroned forever;
    your renown endures through all generations.

Psalm 102:1-12 (NIV)

This year has been filled with times and situations which can bring great despair to people. The last nine months of dealing with the effects of a global pandemic has taken a noticeable toll on the mental health of our nation. The economic distress which is a result of the pandemic has placed many businesses and people in a perilous state. Social unrest, unmasking of inequality, and dangerous human interactions have caused us to question our national institutions and behaviors. A very contentious election cycle has shaken our understanding of democracy and the principles which have sustained our nation. We cry out for an end to this pandemic. We beg for a better way to live out the words of the Declaration of Independence in regard to all people being equal. Our desire for honesty and adherence to the democratic principles which have made our nation a beacon of hope in the past, leads us to shout a heartfelt plea. All of this year’s events drive us to our knees in prayer and lament before our Lord.

The words of the psalmist found in Psalm 102 can be our words as we reflect on this year. The psalmist writes from a point of great despair. This psalm begins with a plea to the Lord to listen to this musical prayer. There is a sense of urgency found in the plea. Then the psalmist lists all the afflictions in life which lead to despair. Following the listing of hardship and feelings, the psalmist shifts direction by acknowledging the greatness of the Lord, a greatness which extends throughout all generations. Clearly the psalmist is raising up the source of hope in the midst of despair.

As I pointed out, this can easily become our own song. We can clearly list before the Lord all aspects of life which lead us to despair now. Our list will be both personal and corporate in nature. We desire deeply the Lord’s willingness to hear us and to respond quickly. In coming before the Lord with our pleas, we are affirming that we believe the Lord is great enough to turn the events of this year around. The greatness the Lord has displayed in previous generations is still present today. This greatness is truly what gives us hope.