A few friends and I are reading Marcus Honeysett’s Finding Joy this term. I read it over the summer and its focus on the gospel of grace as the means for finding joy is really refreshing, but am really valueing being able to give it a second read. Tonight I read his second chapter, The Terrible Tale of Legalism in Galatia; these will be a few thoughts to help me taste and begin to digest.
People pleasing is something I suffer from greatly. And in short it says a lot about how much I’ve really understood grace. But judging myself through meeting people’s standards is not Christian growth. And one of Honeysett’s points is that although we’re tricked into thinking meeting people’s targets is growth, actually those are the very things that will inhibit our Christian growth. There’s no joy in seeking to please others. Like any other false idol, there’s momentary satisfaction at the raised smile, pat on the back, or the brother who’s been fooled by your biblical spiel, but it’s hollow. We’re ensnared by the expectation of others.
According to Paul, we’re justified, not by working for salvation, but by trusting God and putting faith in him. Trusting him means we don’t think we have to pay back. And life as a Christian, growing in holiness is no different. Saved by grace, live by grace. (Can I caveat here and say Honeysett does acknowledge the emphasis in the NT on working out one’s salvation, but picks this up later in the book and says it’s still a reliance on God’s power).
Honeysett draws on the false teaching recalled in Galatians, with Christians being told that fullness of Christian living came from obeying the law of Moses. But measuring our performance of good works alienates us from Christ, and encourages us to forget about grace and trust ourselves. We’re thus robbed of assurance and the Holy Spirit’s power to sanctify us.
Grace is criticial for joy: when we realise there is nothing we can do to make ourselves holy, then we recieve God’s grace with complete and utter joy. Grace stops us being people pleasers. Remembering grace means that we don’t see a need to people please. People pleasing misleads, and it undermines the good news of grace. Neglecting grace saps power from the Christian life: when we bank our hopes on other things, we’re distracted from the place where real righteousness if found: Jesus Christ.
I think it’s terribly difficult to identify how the legalism of Galatia translates into 21st century evangelical Christianity. In fact the very process sort of becomes a legalistic ticklist. It could come under anything: judging yourself on how much you’ve read the Bible this week, doing something simply to look good, hiding sin to appear more godly. There are tonnes of great things to be doing as Christians, which arise naturally out of a desire to serve each other and to serve our Father in Heaven, but a quick intention slip can transform them into legalistic pitfalls where we’re simply feeding to expectations of our Christian subculture. I guess we just need to stay close to the message of the cross, the gospel of grace, the word of life. For in view of Jesus Christ we will be humbled and realise once again that it is by grace that God works in us.