It is not uncommon for me to have days where I feel like a ‘bad Christian’. Perhaps you can sympathise. These are the days when I can’t even remember where my Bible is, let alone the last time I read it, or when I get irrationally annoyed with a colleague over something petty and then take it out on the family.
Fortunately for us, our faith is not built on whether or not we are ‘good Christians’ 24/7 – which is clearly shaky territory. As we explore our faith foundations, it is important to be reminded again that our identity as children of God, and the life that this invites us into, starts and ends with the sacrificial love of Jesus.
Words for the week
Galatians 2:15-21 (NIV)
We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.
But if, in seeking to be justified in Christ, we Jews find ourselves also among the sinners, doesn’t that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! If I rebuild what I destroyed, then I really would be a law-breaker.
For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!
Some years ago I learnt two important life lessons from one embarrassing incident. The first was that old habits die hard. The second was that I was not braver than a 12 year old.
I had taken a youth group away for a residential at an activity centre. One of the activities on offer was the high ropes.
For the uninitiated, this means putting on a harness and scaling all sorts of poles and beams at height. I watched as my young people threw themselves into the activity, cheering them on enthusiastically from below. And then it was my turn. The instructor strapped me to the safety wire and I set off. The lowest beam, a foot off the floor, was a doddle. The next one, perhaps six feet higher, a little less so. By the time I reached the next level, my legs were having none of it.
‘Don’t be scared!’ the instructor called. ‘I’ve got you – you’re completely safe!’ But the fear instinct was too strong. I came back down to solid ground – and to a good deal of ribbing all round.
I knew in my head I was safe, but I hadn’t really grasped it heart and soul. Despite the harness, I still believed that my safety depended on whether I was good enough at walking the (stupidly high) beam without falling.
In some respects, this provides a picture of the controversy facing the church in Galatia. The fledgling church, who were mainly non-Jewish, had heard that in order to be acceptable to God they would need to adopt certain Jewish practices. The source, it seems, was Peter and the leaders in Jerusalem. According to some translations, Galatians 2:15-21 represents part of a bigger rant from Paul to Peter as he challenged this heresy to his face. How could Peter forget? Salvation, Paul reminds him, has nothing to do with us but everything to do with Jesus.
Old habits died hard for Peter too. Culturally, the ‘Jewish’ Christians were used to the notion of the law. How am I made acceptable to God? By doing x, y and z. Their very identity had been based around this. God gave the law to Moses; following it signalled Israel as God’s chosen people. But Jesus’ death and resurrection changed this. Within God’s new covenant, it is no longer the law which saves us but ‘faith in Christ’. In fact, some translations render this ‘the faithfulness of Christ’.
On that beam I was ultimately safe: not because I was a good climber but because someone at the end of that safety harness held me fast. And we are saved – made acceptable to God and welcomed into his family – not by our actions, but because Christ is for us and with us. Our works demonstrate our relationship with God – they can’t earn it, as it is God’s gift to us.
I once asked an older and wiser Christian how he could be sure of salvation. He answered simply: ‘Because I know that when I stand before God, He will look at me and see Jesus.’ This simple truth – that we are in Christ and that he is in us – is not only what assures us of our eternal destiny, but is the foundation for our day to day lives. What heights I could have scaled had I trusted in the harness I shall never know. But I hope to see what God can do in me and through me, as I live and move in the assurance of Christ’s saving love for me.
My hope I cannot measure
My path to life is free
My Saviour has my treasure
And he will walk with me.
Anna Laetitia Waring
Own it personally
Consider your identity as a Christian: is it found in what you do for God, or what he has done for you? Review what you ‘do’ for God. What motivates you? Is your service an expression of your gratitude and love for God, or does it come from a desire to earn God’s favour? Thank God for the incredible truth that His love for us is based on His unchanging character, rather than our own actions and attitudes.
- Take a moment to reflect on these words: ‘When God looks at me, He sees Christ in me.’
- Think about what it means to live as a ‘Christ-carrier’: in your family, your workplace, in your community.
- Pray into this. How will you let this identity transform your words and actions today?
The early church suffered as one group of Christians judged another’s ‘worthiness’ before God on the basis of their background and actions. Pray that we learn to see our brothers and sisters in Christ the way God does, and in turn take seriously the call to ‘spur each other on towards love and good deeds’ (Hebrews 10:24).
Speak it out
A Celtic Prayer
Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit,
Christ when I stand,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.