As a teenager, my understanding of life in Christ, how to live as a Christian, was going to church and enjoying a consistent devotional life with him. This was largely private. I didn’t connect with Christian brothers and sisters, my faith rarely influenced my public decisions; I essentially had a private, devout Christian life and a public, non-distinct “good person” life. I thought this was okay, because I was paying attention to God and doing “good Christian things,” but it was compartmentalized from the rest of my life. As I entered my twenties, I started realizing that I wasn’t really growing. I kept struggling with the same sins, no matter how good my Bible and prayer journal time was or how emotionally affected I was by a worship service.
The problem was that I was basing my Christian life in things that, though they can be good and profitable things, had largely become religious rituals and comfort zones. I used them to satisfy the feeling of needing to respond to the gospel: if I kept a consistent devotional life, I was a good Christian. Without realizing it, I had adopted a “Jesus-plus” understanding of Christianity, a “Jesus-and-by-doing-this” understanding. This is why, as I read Galatians, I can imagine some of the believers who had been misled by the Judaizers wondering how they were supposed to live as Christians. They probably all came from various backgrounds of needing to do something to earn the favor of gods. They might have heard Paul’s rebukes and thought, “Okay, but then what do we do?” Did they just believe and then not change at all? How were they supposed to live as Christians? The suggestion of following the Mosaic law might have been an easy solution to this tension.
Paul, however, provided clarity for them in his letter. Christ freed us from being bound to legalistic requirements. Therefore, following such requirements is worthless: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love” (5:6). So it’s not ritualism, (for them, Law observance; for me, faith misplaced in church-going and ritualistic bible study) but faith working through love, which Paul loosely defines as using our freedom to serve one another through love (5:13). In other words, our faith is not Jesus-plus, it’s just Jesus. And we live that faith, not through check-the-box rituals, but by using the freedom he gives us to focus on how we might bless, help and benefit those around us.
– Cameron Peters, Director of Communications