Christianity is not a moralistic religion but instead a redemptive religion. It’s about how a righteous God redeems sinful humanity through the substitutionary death of Jesus on Calvary’s cross that we might have atonement with Him.
For too long we have thought that being a Christian means obeying rules and laws in order to show God how thankful and appreciative we are for His death on our behalf. And even worse some of us thought that trying to keep the law was essential for our salvation. But all our attempts only drive us further from God, “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace,” Galatians 5:4 Paul asks, “Does He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith,” Galatians 3:5
In Galatians 2 Paul writes, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification were through the law, then Christ died to no purpose,” (v. 20, 21)
The false teachers were teaching the Galatian Christians that Jesus was not enough for salvation and they must add the teachings of the Mosaic law to grace in order to have the complete package of what encompassed being a Christian. Paul would have none of that muddled thinking. His response in Galatians 2:20, 21 is one of the most beautiful and powerful passages in all of Scripture.
Paul uses himself as an illustration of God’s love for the Galatians. “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me,” is a powerful statement of the transforming power of the Gospel for all who hear by faith.
The persecuting Saul was transformed on the Damascus road when Jesus intervened in his life and he emerged from that encounter with Jesus, not only with a new name, but a new direction in life. He no longer lived in the sense of his old ambitions, thoughts, actions and purposes because now Jesus lived within him.
Think about what it means to have been, “crucified with Christ” and now have Him live within you. In the Greek this idea of “have been” is active and on going. For Paul being crucified with Christ wasn’t something that just happened in his past but was a continual wonderful experience that accompanied him every day of his life.
Saul (Paul), as a persecuting Jew of Christians, lived by works of the law. He believed, as did his contemporaries, that the laws could be kept perfectly and he was doing that. Hy believed that the Gentiles couldn’t be saved because they couldn’t keep the laws perfectly since they didn’t have the laws in the first place. For Saul, a Jew, salvation came by doing works of the law and that only applied to Jews.
Everything changed for Paul when it dawned on him that Jesus loved him and died for him personally. In the light of the amazing personal substitutionary sacrifice of God Paul’s life was transformed. He went from persecutor to the greatest evangelist of the Christian church. When each of us understands that we are loved and that Jesus would have hung on that cross if we were the only person in the world who needed redemption, it changes you.
Paul makes it clear to his readers who are flirting with taking the Mosaic laws back into their life that grace doesn’t nullify their relationship with God. In fact it is the exact opposite. If we think that keeping the laws gives us status and merit with God we have nullified the entire meaning of the cross and Jesus died for nothing.
We cannot have it both ways where we say on one hand, I am saved by grace, and on the other hand, I need to keep the laws to have merit with God. The two ways of looking at salvation are totally incompatible. If keeping the law has any merit or can add one iota to our redemption, then what was the point of Jesus’ death? The only conclusion would be is that he died for his own sins and that is heresy as Jesus didn’t have sin nor need to die for sin He didn’t possess.
This is the crux of Paul’s argument. The reason Jesus died for us is because the law couldn’t save us, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness and no atonement. Anyone who believes that keeping the law has merit with God has made the crucifixion of no importance.
So, when I say that Christianity isn’t a moralistic religion what do I mean? What I don’t mean is that we are a lawless society doing whatever we want whenever we want with no consequences. To be a Christian is to live in harmony with God’s directives for us as found in the directives of the New Covenant.
Under the old covenant God said to keep His laws and you obeyed, but under the new covenant we hear the voice of God and ask what would you have me do? In the old covenant our response was passive and inward, but under the new covenant our response is active and outward. Jesus asks us to put our faith into action not by keeping laws, but by loving and ministering to others.
Jesus says to Martha, roll away the stone; to the disciples throw the net into the water from the other side of the boat. He is constantly calling for us to put our faith into action by hearing His voice and acting upon it. A moralistic religion centers on the rules and living an upright life in accordance to all of those rules and regulations.
A Christian life is hearing the voice of God and living out the grace of God in our lives through love for others. “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor un-circumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love,” Galatians 5:6. “But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith,” Galatians 3:25, 26
In the Gospel of John we read, “A new commandment I give to you that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another,” John 13:34, 35. He doesn’t say by keeping all the laws of Moses the world will know we are His disciples, but through love that comes from the indwelling Christ.
* Please remember to pray for the Christians that are suffering under persecution for their faith in many countries around the world. Some of their stories can be found at http://thebeggardanced.com/nine-oclock-club/