Discipleship by Faith

Over the last 2 years I have experienced something of a transformation of the heart. The transformation didn’t begin with the following scripture passage, but it is summarized by it:

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? 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—just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?

I grew up knowing that God saved me by grace through faith. Salvation is God’s business. That always seemed evident enough, and I believed that the corollary to that statement was this: sanctification is my business. Lost people need the gospel, and saved people need good works. I’m not sure exactly why I thought that way, but two years ago the weight of Paul’s words finally began to crush me. Salvation is by faith. So it is with discipleship. Read Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase:

You crazy Galatians! Did someone put a hex on you? Have you taken leave of your senses? Something crazy has happened, for it’s obvious that you no longer have the crucified Jesus in clear focus in your lives. His sacrifice on the cross was certainly set before you clearly enough.

2-4 Let me put this question to you: How did your new life begin? Was it by working your heads off to please God? Or was it by responding to God’s Message to you? Are you going to continue this craziness? For only crazy people would think they could complete by their own efforts what was begun by God. If you weren’t smart enough or strong enough to begin it, how do you suppose you could perfect it?

As I read those words I felt like a biologist who was drowning. All of his study has told him that humans need air to survive, but the sting of saltwater filling his lungs confirms that truth more than any study. I had known that obeying God was impossible outside of Christ, but none of my obedience had brought pleasure, only a heightened sense of guilt.

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I had been paying what C. S. Lewis calls the tax of the moral conscience. Every devotion was duty. Every missed devotion was condemnation. But, Paul says the transfer of the gospel isn’t from death into limbo, but from death into life. Death brings captivity, life brings freedom. Christ didn’t just accomplish my salvation. He also accomplished my sanctification, my discipleship, and only as I press into him and find myself in him do I become his disciple.

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