11. The only way to be right with God.
Ephesians 2:1-10 again, plus 2:11-22: “It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved…. God saved you by his grace when you believed. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it…. Christ himself has brought peace to us… He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations.” (NLT excerpts)
Paul describes in this chapter how God is unifying the Jewish and Gentile followers of Christ. He stressed that no matter what their religious background was, they became right with God by believing in Christ’s sacrificial death for them. Sometimes I identify more with the Jews than the Gentiles (even though I am not Jewish). I have lived as if I believed that obeying the laws of God was the way to please God and be right with Him. I’m still in the process of learning how to love God freely and not be hung up by the rules. I know that obedience to rules does not make me right with God. And I also know that rules can be helpful: the moral laws that God gave are consistent with His character and given to us to make our lives better. I know God wants us to trust Him and obey Him. But there have been times in the past when I felt God would be angry with me if I did something that was outside of the rules, if I disobeyed Him. I felt that since He is perfect and just, He could not and would not put up with my many imperfections.
This was an issue of cognitively knowing that God had forgiven my past, present, and future sins through Christ, but feeling that He was condemning me when I failed Him. It took many years for the truth of His forgiveness and grace to sink into my emotional side, my feelings. The big change happened as a result of reading a couple of books that spoke to my soul* and some dramatic answers to prayer that convinced me that God loves me unconditionally. This total cognitive and emotional belief in His unconditional love for me personally is the basis for any sense of spiritual freedom I have, and any confidence that I can “boldly” come into His presence.
Now how should I relate to the laws and regulations of the Old Testament? They were inadequate to make me right with God, partially because I am unable to obey them completely in my own efforts. But the moral law still describes God’s best practices — ways to live that are consistent with loving God and others. So (1) I will be grateful for the “new” way of being in relationship with God though Christ; I am no longer required to follow the law to be right with God. (2) I am praying for the ability to love God more and to love other people more effectively, since this sums up the basic truth of the Old Testament laws; and (3) I am aiming to live by the moral law expressed in the 10 commandments and the guidelines God has given us, motivated by wanting to live a more healthy and loving life and to bring joy to the heart of God.
Father, I am so thankful that You did not give up on me many years ago when I seemed unable to trust You and did not fully accept Your unconditional love. You are such a patient Father! Thank You for never giving up on me. And thank You for your moral law which reveals Your character and values. Please help me to love other people the way You do. Amen.
*Helpful books on experiencing God’s love: Because He Loves Me: How Christ transforms our daily life, by Elyse M. Fitzpatrick; and He Loves Me! Learning to live in the Father’s affection, by Wayne Jacobsen.