Advent: December 17
15 ‘We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles 16 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.
17 ‘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! 18 If I rebuild what I destroyed, then I really would be a law-breaker.
19 ‘For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. 20 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. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!’
In laying out his case, Paul likes to bring in the sort of questions people may have or are likely to pose. My mother was of the opinion that people who were Catholic could go to Mass, get forgiven, and then carry on doing whatever sinful things they were doing in the first place. So, can you do that? Of course not! If you do not want to repent then you cannot seek forgiveness. I expect Paul had a number of Greek converts who’d been exposed to a range of philosophies, who were trying to make sense of their new faith.
Adding in these “red herrings” to the red meat of Paul’s arguments can make it difficult to follow what he is saying. You might find it easier to miss out some bits, e.g. verses 17-18. You might find that reading a passage out loud helps you understand it better, because you can place stresses and inflections on the words to bring out meaning. You can also read the same passage in another translation, and even try to write it out for yourself – that way, you’ll soon know if you know it!
Verses 19 and 20 sum up the impact of Jesus’ death. Paul died to the law when he accepted Christ. Dying to something means that it no longer has any effect or hold on you. Paul’s startling claim that he (we, too!) has been crucified with Christ is to be understood not as Paul suffering on the cross, but his dying to an old life because of Jesus’ death. We can then describe our new life in Christ that comes from Jesus’ resurrection. In simpler terms, we identify with Christ’s death and resurrection through our death and resurrection to new life in Jesus. It’s all about Jesus. Saving grace.
All of this is a supreme act of grace. Paul tells us that the old life could never be justified before God, because the Law that governed it could never make us righteous. Only the Righteous One surpassed the Law, and only because he offered himself as the final sacrifice. He did it for us, so that we may claim his righteousness and not anything of our own. Wonderful grace.
How would you explain why you are a Christian to someone?
How would you describe the essence of Christian faith to someone?
Who in your neighbourhood needs to hear this?
Father God, I want to glory in the riches of your grace, and to share this with my neighbourhood. I do not always feel brave – my lack of faith, or my unrighteousness may be exposed before others. You have chosen and appointed me – I pray for extra grace to cover my shortcomings. Fill my heart with compassion for the lost. In Jesus’ name. Amen.