I don’t write very often anymore, but I fell compelled to explain a little about Galatians to my bible-reading group which includes some newer Christians. However, the ideal of salvation by faith alone is not only for new believers, it is for all of us.
The idea of salvation by works can be confusing. What does Paul mean by “works”? He often speaks of circumcision and the law, but what does that mean? Ever since the early days of Abraham, Jews followed a strict code of conduct which included circumcision. Yes, that circumcision. With Moses, God added a considerable array of rules, including dietary, ceremonial, and moral law. The first two, dietary and ceremonial, intended to distinguish Jews from all the other peoples and nations. God set Jews apart as his own special people. They were to encourage others to follow.
In fact, God intended the Jews to serve as a light intended to attract the world, but that didn’t happen. They acted in their own self interest and walked apart from God. Yet, their behavior did not negate the commandments God gave.
Ever since the fall, the God gave hints of someone to come (Genesis 3:15 to start). These hints became more and more specific as time went on, so much so that once Jesus arrived, it could be clear that Jesus was the man. The man for what? To bring salvation to the Jews and anyone else who believed. With Jesus, something changed. Access to God was no longer obeying all the rules (yes, all the rules), but it was simply by faith in this one call Jesus Christ.
You see, no one obeyed all the rules even though they knew better. In fact, they seemed to go any which way BESIDES the way God wanted. This is true even today. But Jesus changed all that. He alone lived a perfect life, and through his death and resurrection (a topic for another time), he satisfied all the requirements of the law. The only requirement left was to have faith in Jesus.
There is no end to the discussion about what THAT means, but Paul was adamant to set the record straight that faith alone is the only requirement necessary to obtain eternal life. The things we DO does not benefit us at all.
Indeed, Something DOES Change!
Jesus explained to a Jewish teacher that one must be born again to see the kingdom of God (John 3:1-21). This was what the prophets of old spoke of that has become known as “the new covenant.” To put it simply, it is no longer you and I that need to try to be perfect to know God. Instead, God changes us, from the inside out, so that we now WANT to follow him, to love him, and to obey him. There is a radical change in a person when God performs that work in us.
What kind of change? First is an unexplained belief and trust in Jesus. They walk away from sinful behaviors and lifestyles. Believers walk away from family and friends to follow Christ. They have a hunger for the bible and for other believers. Indeed, something DOES change! All this wrapped up in the word, “faith.” Yes, it is a word that encompasses many things, but it is also a word that is strikingly simple.
Is Faith Enough?
However, humans are humans, and they begin to ask, “Is faith enough?” Maybe we need to do these things to help or ensure that we are tight with Jesus. That’s the problem that Paul was identifying in Galatians and other letters. The Jewish claimed that circumcision in addition to faith. In their mind, faith wasn’t enough. Males had to cut the skin of their penis.
Do you think that seems unreasonable? I think so, but we also see other things today that are similar. The Catholic Church requires baptism and a whole list of other ceremonial and observances that might appease God so that they might enter heaven. In fact, they have taken this so far as to worship and pray to dead humans in an effort to gain their salvation!
Paul vehemently rejects all this by insisting that salvation is by faith alone. In fact, he goes so far as to say that those who bring this teaching into the body of Christ will be accursed. That’s right, accursed. That means condemned to everlasting hellfire. This is no small issue. In fact, it is at the top of the list.
Salvation by Faith Alone: It Makes Sense
When we pause and think about these things, it makes sense. Ceremonies quickly become routine and lose their significance. In fact, they easily become twisted and perverted to serve the interests of man, as with the Jews and Catholics. We are to glorify God alone, not man. Jesus is the one who died on the cross, not man. He has one requirement – to have faith (believe).
Those who insist on adding works are either in error and need correction or are simply frauds who are looking for something other than God. Jesus has chilling words for those who claim to be his but aren’t, “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'” (Matthew 7:23)
So, it makes sense that we cannot earn our way to heaven. Yes, we must do certain things, like love on another and forgive our enemies, but these are things to do as a result of our salvation, not a condition of it. Take, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, for example. We to remember what Christ has done for us. They are not something that must be done prior to salvation. It’s an act of obedience, not of condition.
No Strings Attached
Faith has no strings attached. God forgives all our sins, past, present, and future. End of story. He loves us infinitely – as he does his Son, Jesus Christ. Our salvation is secure. We cannot sin our way out of it. Remember, we still sin. Yes, we are not who we once were, but we still have something inside us that leads us to sin. That, we find, is something very troubling to us and something we strive to rid ourselves of. Yes, we are not who we once were.
Salvation by faith alone. It’s a big deal. It really is.