How Can I Hope to Keep The Law?

How Can I Hope to Keep The Law? January 27, 2016

Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane - Reichenau St.GeorgGalatians 2:11-21

Theologically, I say with St. Paul that “a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ.”  Devotionally, which is to say theologically in a personal and applied way, I say with St. Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”

We know that a man cannot be justified by the works of the law, for a number of reasons.  The most important of these reasons is that even if we were capable of perfectly keeping the Law, in its outward manifestation, it would be impossible to keep it without the grace of God.  I don’t believe that before Adam fell that he was able to love and obey the One who had created him without the grace of God.  To think so would require that Adam had an independent existence apart from God and His creating and sustaining love.  But it is precisely this kind of thinking that is secularism in action: the relegation of God to an optional appendage and the belief that mankind is capable apart from the grace of God.

It’s impossible to keep the Law and be justified by its works without God, as well, because the first and greatest commandment is to love God with all that we are.  To believe and act as if we can obey the Law without God is, in fact, to negate the very Law we profess to be able to uphold!

The sad truth is that while all of this is somewhat theoretical, the practical reality is that we are all miserable sinners and that the best of us is not capable of keeping the Law.  In fact, we all blow it on the very first point of the Law: to love God with all of our hearts and souls and minds.

Our justification, our righteousness before God, then, must come from God and not ourselves.  More specifically, we are made right with God only by Jesus Christ.  Sometimes here we also have a tendency to objectify our justification, as if it is the work of Jesus Christ that saves us.  We seem to believe that we are saved because of the fact that Jesus Christ died on the Cross for our sins.  While it’s certainly true that Jesus Christ died on the Cross for our sins, the mere fact of this doesn’t save us.  What’s missing is, of course, Jesus Christ Himself.  More correctly, it is the love of the Father through Jesus Christ who saves us.  No mere fact, no mere action, apart from the person and love of God can save us.  God chose to use the Cross and Christ’s death and resurrection as the means of our salvation and justification, but it is never apart from His person and His life that He imparts to us.

That’s why I prefer to meditate today on verse 20 rather than verse 16.  In verse 16 we often allow ourselves to proclaim an objective theological truth against our ancient 16th century enemy: the Roman Catholic Church.  But, as true as verse 16 is, the way we often live with it is only through our heads, and not also through or hearts and hands.

But verse 20 requires me to realize that my life is an entire life in relationship to the Father through Jesus Christ.  It strikes at the very heart of who I am and leaves no organ or tissue, no nerve or cell, of my being untouched by or untransformed by God.  It’s not just that God is making an objective and dispassionate theological proclamation about my condition: He’s saying that He has made an entirely new me.  In fact, baptism is a picture of how I have been crucified with Christ that I might live with Him.

One of the most fascinating aspects of faith in Christ is the faith it takes to recognize and live based on the fact that it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.  Just how this happens is a mystery, as the Incarnation – God made man – is a mystery.  How can Jesus Christ live in me and how does He live in me?  I don’t know, but I do know a few things about it.  I do know that if God can create the world out of nothing, including myself, then I know He can live within me; I do know that if He can bring back people from the dead, then He can live within me; and I do know that if He can become a man, then He can live within me.

This is not just a figure of speech, any more than baptism is just a figure of speech or simply a picture of God’s grace.  It is a miraculous reality, or what I like to call “miraculality,” a truth that is real yet so wonderful and amazing and invisible that it must be of God and must require faith.  Therefore, I am saved not so much by the mere fact of the Incarnation or Cross or Resurrection but by the miraculality of Jesus Christ, the One who was made man and was crucified and resurrected for me, living in me.

It’s funny, but often it doesn’t feel like Jesus is living in me.  But this is a mistake, to judge by feeling and human experience, rather than what God has said and done.  It doesn’t feel like I am dead and Christ has taken over.  I think this is at least partially because I often think about it the wrong way.  Sometimes I think that we think that to say that I have been crucified and no longer live but Christ lives in me means that somehow we are almost possessed by the Spirit of Christ.  Maybe we expect God to so much take over that we can’t even feel ourselves anymore and it is all God.

But here’s the truly miraculous part, that as Jesus Christ is both God and man, Christ in us is both God and man.  It is all of grace, and it is now Christ who lives in me, but I am still here.  There is still a me, just in case some of you are afraid of letting Christ live in you because there will be no you left.  This is not what St. Paul means.

What Paul means is something much more glorious and exciting!  What he means, what He, God, means, is that Christ lives in me and that through Christ I am made right with God and I can dwell in God and He in me.  What He means is that He has sought and created a union with His people once again, and that we are one flesh with Jesus Christ, through our life in Him.  Think Incarnation, think marriage.  What God means is the glorification of man and that man is now truly capable of living for God because we live through and with Him.

Of course to truly live for, with, and through Jesus Christ means that our lives will truly be like His life.  Once again, there is no faith without faithfulness because He has created a whole life with us, not only an abstract or objective statement of fact.  We can’t ever separate faith and faithfulness because with God they are the same thing!

Here, then, is the truth for this day and every day: that Christ lives in me!

Prayer:  Father, I thank You for crucifying me with Your Son, Jesus Christ, so that it is now no longer I who live but Him in Me.  Thank You for offering Yourself to me through Your Son; may I now offer myself to You, who first loved me.  Amen. 

Point for Meditation: 

  1. In what ways have you ever experienced Christ living in you?
  2. You are crucified with Christ, and yet we are also commanded to crucify ourselves. In what ways should you be crucifying yourself so that you may more perfectly and fully live in Christ? 

Resolution:  I resolve to find one way in which I may actively choose to live for Christ today, that is, to live more faithfully. 


Christ Praying in the Garden, Reichenau St. Georg – Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license

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