Galatians 4:21. Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law?
Paul is agonizing over these beloved saints and their desire to return to law, because it is a rejection of the life of Christ in them. They are not living Galatians 2:20- by faith in the one who loved us and gave his life for us. And so Paul asks them the question that we see in 4:21. “Are you even listening to the law?”
Living by the law is the opposite of living by the indwelling life of Christ. It is living by a system of controlling good and evil so that you can gain an identity and control the outcomes of your life.
I know reading Galatians can get lost on us, because we read about law keeping and the examples from Galatians (circumcision) don’t seem to relate. But the warning in this letter is for us. And the truths of Christ’s union with us will free you from the need to control your life through law keeping.
So what does law keeping look like for us today? What are the ways we try to live by a system of standards, principles, or laws that we use to gain control of our lives? Let me share two of them:
Living by Cause – Effect
Living this way says that I will get out of life what I put into it. If I do “A” then I will get “B.” This is how the Law of Moses functioned. If the Israelites obeyed God they would be blessed. If they disobeyed they would be cursed. We live this same way – using the cause – effect principle to control the outcomes of our life. If I do all the right things my life will go as I plan.
So for example Christians may say:
If you remain pure, you will find a spouse.
If you read your Bible every day, good thing will happen to you.
If you follow good marriage principles, you will have a happy marriage.
If you work hard, you will succeed.
If you give money, God will bless you.
We live by law every time we live by this cause – effect principle. And if you think about it, we all live this way every single day of our lives. The problem is that eventually life crushes this system. Just ask Job. Or Paul. Or Ruth. Or Jesus. Bad things happen even when we’ve done most things or even everything right.
But the bigger problem is that this system is void of trust in God. It is not living by faith in your union with Christ. It is not trusting Christ’s life for joy, peace, comfort, or power. It is trusting your system. Your own effort. Your ability to manage life. And this is law.
Creating your own identity.
The idea that we must create our own identity is all over the American way of life. You are identified, valued, and justified by what you do. How well you perform. Who you are is determined by your actions.
The problem here is that you must maintain this identity through greater and greater performance. “I’m the funny one.” “I’m the smart one.” “I’m the pastor.” “I’m a good Christian.”
The brain. The athlete. The basket case. The princess. The rebel.
Maintaining these identities leads to intense pressure. And what happens when my “true identity” that I created for myself is suddenly not so true? Do I create my next true identity? Or do I live falsely up to my “true identity?”
My head hurts just thinking about it.
Here too, the indwelling life of Christ is ignored and denied. This is not a life of faith. It is a life of works. It is not trusting God for my meaning, identity, and value in Christ. Rather, it is trusting how I feel today. And then trying to live up to those feelings. Like the Galatians who ran to the Mosaic code for cause and effect and created identity through law keeping, we too run to these things in an attempt to control our lives and God himself. “If I am good, then he has to like me.”
“To live is Christ” frees me from these two forms of law. Those elementary principles at work in us to produce the illusion of control through a system of cause – effect and creating my own identity. These are self salvation not faith. These are works not grace. These are death not life. But Christ formed in you brings you to a place of total dependence upon God, not self. Not law keeping. Not identity and meaning through self creation, but rather through the truth declared over us that we are Sons and Daughters of God.