It’s such a great feeling when you know you earned something. It wasn’t just given. You worked hard, spent precious time, and maybe even sweated for it. You want to show it off or talk about it.
If I’m honest, that’s the way I feel about my Masters degree. It isn’t your average Masters that most people think about. A Masters of Divinity requires 90+ hours with the study of two languages. Most other professions can earn a doctorate with that amount of work. I earned that degree. I sacrificed sleep, spent countless hours, read countless books, and obsessed over the Hebrew alphabet to acquire that piece of paper and I am proud of it.
Many of us want to approach our relationship with God that way too. We want to feel as though we earned God’s favor. We went to church all the time, tried our best not to sin, and served other people. We want to get to heaven on our merit; because we earned it. Then we want that recognition for how good we’ve been.
We know the answer is grace alone through faith alone. We know that Jesus came because we couldn’t do it, but somewhere in our minds we are still looking for God’s approval. We still feel like we owe God or can somehow pay him back, even if we don’t say it out loud.
Who Has Bewitched You?
It is precisely for this reason that Paul wrote to the Galatian church. Paul says in Galatians 1:6-7, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.”
There were apparently people coming in and trying to convince the Galatian people that needed Jesus plus something else. Faith in Jesus alone wasn’t the way to heaven—they needed something more. Paul’s words are strong to them emphasizing that this isn’t something he takes lightly. Galatians 3:1-3, “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? “
Paul says, “Who has cast a spell on you and taken over your mind?” He calls them fools for believing a different gospel than what he had preached to them. He says, “How did you get the Holy Spirit? By your good works?” He emphasizes that if you needed the Spirit for salvation then you most certainly need Him for sanctification. Paul’s harsh tone here is because he has given the believers in this church the good news of Jesus and they are abandoning it. He cares about them and wants them to know that if they’re trusting in their good works to earn their way to heaven then they will be heading to hell. Adding anything to Jesus is a false gospel.
The fact that we can’t earn our way to heaven should be good news! It should bring us relief. It should free us up from performance and worry so that we can obey God because we love Him and are grateful to Him. It frees us up from worrying when we do sin and mess up. “This won’t count against my record because Jesus’ record is my record.” Instead, we repent and joyfully continue to follow Christ.
Grace alone and faith alone in Christ alone is not just catchy statement. It’s the good news of the gospel. It’s saying, “I can’t so God did.” It is what separates Christianity from every other religion out there. It’s the distinction between Christianity and cults that want people to believe they need Jesus plus works or something else. If Jesus death was not enough then Jesus is not God.
In fighting against the urge to earn and perform, we are freed to put all our faith, hope, love, and joy into the God who sent His only Son to be sin when He knew no sin. The truth of the gospel is why we worship. It is why we have hope. It is the true freedom for which Christ has set us free.