I promise. Two words. Two words that should hold a simple and clear meaning, yet can be said and read may ways. I’ve made promises, kept promises, and failed horrendously other times to uphold them.
I’m reading in the book of Galatians from the New Testament. Penned at the hands of the apostle Paul who was hugely behind the spread of Christianity beyond its Jewish roots, Galatians tackles a question early Jewish believers in Jesus wrestled with: should Christians be expected to follow Jewish law to truly be Christians? Or to ask a similar question, are there certain ceremonies or laws that must be observed in order to experience true spirituality?
I’m just going to dip my toes into the theology of this one, mostly because I desire to point out a statement Paul makes caught my attention. The toe-deep summary I’ll offer Is enough (I hope) only to give a little context to the statement Paul makes. Paul wrote Galatians as a letter to believers in Jesus who were listening to others who would have them believe that one must do more than believe in Jesus to authentically know God. These Jewish Christians had a large body of knowledge and experience in the Scriptures (the Christian’s Old Testament) and that heritage had to amount to something. Surely, God had given them the law in order that it would be followed, and that in following His people would be right with Him, and would be in good standing with Him
1 You foolish people of Galatia! Who has put you under an evil spell? When I preached, I clearly showed you that Jesus Christ had been nailed to the cross. 2 I would like to learn just one thing from you. Did you receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the law? Or did you receive the Spirit by believing what you heard? ~Galatians Chapter 3
Then Paul reminds his readers of this guy Abraham. Abraham is the father of the Jewish nation It is his son Isaac that is the father of Jacob (aka Israel) whose 12 sons are the first branches of the Jewish family tree, so to speak. Abraham is important. He’s God’s guy. Everything starts with Abraham. Paul likes Abraham too. At least one reason why Paul likes him is that Abraham is an excellent case study for Paul’s understanding of what God’s real expectations of anyone who wants to know Him are. Here’s what he writes next:
What did Abraham do that made him God’s guy? He believed God. God said something to Abraham that is recorded early on in the Scriptures. God tells Abraham (over the course of a few encounters) if you will forget about all of your past, leave everything you know, and go to a new country, then Abe buddy I’m going to do something so great through your life that the whole world will be blessed through you. All we know is that God made a promise. He promised Abraham, if you will…then I will. God made a promise to Abraham and for some reason, Abraham believed that God would do what He promised.
This made him God’s guy. A promise given, a promise accepted. Faith was born, and all of our lives are impacted by this transaction. A promise offered and a promise received and believed has changed the world.
17 This is what I am trying to say: The agreement God made with Abraham could not be canceled 430 years later when God gave the law to Moses. God would be breaking his promise. 18 For if the inheritance [of all the stuff God promised to Abraham, his descendants and the world] could be received by keeping the law, then it would not be the result of accepting God’s promise. But God graciously gave it [this sweet inheritance mentioned above] to Abraham as a promise. ~Galatians Chapter 3
God’s promise is everything. Our good deeds, our trying to do the right thing, our religion, our ceremonies and ascetics are nothing in comparison. Our efforts to please God are ridiculous in light of a God who says, I will do wonders in and through you.
Here’s my prayer:
God will you forgive me for all of the ways that I try to do good and to be good that are outside of faith. Forgive me for the ways I behave like I can win Your approval, or earn something from You. Help me to read your Scriptures in faith. To see a promise you make and take it…to eat up everything You say You’ll do. Change how I read your word so that my approach to you is “speak, and I will respond.” Show me Your promises and I will build my life on them. Reveal Your truth to me and I will humbly let it set me free. I admit that I have done nothing to earn Your favor. I believe Your promise to give forgiveness and eternal life to anyone who believes in Your son Jesus. I have done nothing to earn Your favor and can do nothing to keep it or improve it. I rest in Your promise.