I’m reading through Galatians this summer, at a very leisurely pace, I might add, when along came this verse in 5:2. “If you are counting on circumcision to make you right with God, then Christ will be of no benefit to you.” Christ…will be…of…NO BENEFIT….to you. Those words rolled over me like a snowplow. When has my relationship with Jesus Christ been ineffective, distant, useless, impotent as far as I am concerned? When has He, Lord of all, King of the Universe, God of my heart’s cry, Father of my fatherless soul, when has HE been rendered useless, of no benefit, to me?
I think this happens subtly, before I really know it. I wake one day and realize that my fire is a pile of spent fuel, my passion is a faded picture of desire, the cup of sweet intimacy with Jesus Christ Himself is diluted. I am lukewarm. Christ has become of no benefit to me. I belong to Him forever, and yet I experience none of the delight He rescued me to know.
I am resentful of those whose innocent joy spills over into everyday life. I try to quench their childlike desire with “mature” and “sober” thoughts. Underneath this is a sense that I have lost something they have so easily found, something precious I can’t recover on my own. I become envious and covet their happiness.
Often these lapses come during my most productive times in ministry. When I retrace my steps to the hours and moments before I lost the cup of joy that is life with Jesus, there is a consistent pattern. In place of “circumcision” in the verse, I’ll put a blank space. “If you are counting on ___________ to make you right with God, then Christ will be of no benefit to you.” You can add anything you like that makes you feel right with God, anything that makes you think God’s favor rests on you, anything other than the purely irrational love of Jesus for you, and at that moment God’s grace in Christ has no effect.
The Galatians placed “circumcision” in the blank space of their life thinking this addition would put them in the “favored of God” position. Along with circumcision came a whole way of life: ceremonies, celebrations, laws, regulations. Every aspect of interaction with God and humanity was prepackaged, ready to adopt, right living with God. This kind of Savior substitute was even instituted by YWH Himself, to show us just how far we can run on our own righteousness. Diluted fuel indeed.
If our knowledge of being good in God’s eyes, pleasing to Him, is only discernible through the things we do, or give, or are working to become, we have lost connection with our Savior, Jesus, the Head of the Body of Christ; a lamp without oil, a glove with no hand, a car with no engine. We find ourselves resentful of those who seem to experience freedom with little restriction, and secretly wish them some difficulty that would clip their wings. Then they’d see its not all freedom and no responsibility in Christ. Still as their joy flows on and His favor still refreshes them, we may feel resentful and struggle not to wish them some ill, “for their own good.”
In the story of two brothers Jesus told, we are the older brother and work for Father’s favor, never missing a day and never knowing His blessing that only comes by faith from grace.
The cure? Retrace your steps. Return to the very spot where you replaced His all-consuming smile and presence with Any. Other. Thing. For the Galatians it was circumcision, inclusion in the family of Judaism with all its rituals and laws, feasts, and family obligations. For you it may be church membership, a ministry you love, work that makes you seem better than you really are, or the love of family and friends. You were born into the Church of which Jesus is Lord and Leader the moment you trusted Him, yet have added doctrine and practice, work or a lifestyle instead of Jesus Christ’s love and rescue alone to give you a sense that you are safe, whole, effective, important in Him. This is idol worship. This is the deception of false gods.
Come home. Grace keeps a candle lit in the window of Zion’s House, the heavenly Jerusalem, your heart’s true home.