In the film The Fisher King, Amanda Plummer plays the part of a shy and awkward accountant, called Lydia. Robin Williams plays Parry. Parry takes a liking to Lydia and begins to pursue her. But she doubts that anyone would really be interested in her.
Parry asks Lydia for a dinner date, after which he offers to walk her home. ‘I think you’re a little attracted to me,’ she observes. But, although she loves him, she puts a damper on things. If you knew what I was like you wouldn’t be so keen. Your infatuation will wear off. You’ll leave me and never call again. You’ll soon begin to think that I’m just a piece of dirt.
‘I’ve known you for a long time,’ Parry responds. ‘I know you come out from work at noon every day … I walk with you to lunch … I know what you order … I know you hate your job and you don’t have many friends and I know that sometimes you feel a little uncoordinated and you don’t feel as wonderful as everybody else feeling as alone and as separate as you feel you are … I love you … I love you … I love you and I think you’re the greatest thing since spice racks and I would be knocked out several times if I could just have that first kiss. And … I won’t be distant. I’ll come back in the morning and I’ll call you if you let me …’
How does she respond? She slowly touches his face and asks, ‘You’re real … aren’t you?’
We yearn for grace! We long to be loved by someone who can handle all our weaknesses, flaws, failings and sin. We want someone who really knows us and yet genuinely loves us. And the great thing is that the reality is better than the fiction. The truth is that while you are more sinful than you have ever realised and more loved than you have ever dreamed. So let’s continue drinking from the pure stream of grace that flows so abundantly out of Galatians.
For generations the people of Galatia (in what is now southern Turkey) knew nothing about the true and living God. But one day the apostle Paul turned up with the great news of Jesus. He told them that Jesus lived the perfect life and died a sacrificial death so that we could experience peace with God. He shared a message that assures people of forgiveness and gives them a new heart. He told them that the gift of God was conditional on nothing else but putting our trust in the person of Christ. Many people responded with joy and became Christians. But it was not long before false-teachers came along and muddied the waters. These false-teachers agreed that Jesus was the Messiah, but claimed you had to obey all the laws of the Old Testament to be a Christian. Paul writes to set the record straight.
Firstly, Paul points out that: God has always, and will always, bless people through grace (15-18).
He has highlighted Abraham as the great example of being justified by grace through faith. Abraham was a pagan man from an idolatrous family who simply believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. Now Paul points out that the promises made to Abraham, and the salvation that accompanied them, were an irrevocable agreement. Salvation has always been, and will always be, based on God’s undeserved favour to those who trust him. Salvation never has been, nor ever will be, the results of our efforts and attempts to be good.
It is wonderful to realise that his means of giving us peace with God has always centred on the person of Jesus. The promises were spoken to Abraham and his seed (singular), who is Christ. God promised Abraham that through this seed (or ‘offspring’) all the nations of the world would be blessed. Our faith is the outworking of that promise! We are blessed!
God’s richest blessing has nothing to do with the size of your bank account. God does not promise you an easy life. He may even say ‘no’ to some of your most heartfelt prayers. But he never turns away the person he has drawn to himself. He is the promise-keeping God who gives eternal life to those who do nothing else but trust in him. He wants you to feel securely embraced in his ever-lasting love. This is what we need more than anything else in life!
Secondly, Paul points out that we have to see our need of grace if we are going to receive God’s blessing (19-22).
‘Okay’, reply the false-teachers, ‘you claim that Abraham was saved by simply believing God’s promises and not through circumcision or obeying the Law of Moses. We’ll agree to differ with you on that one. But you cannot deny the Law of Moses was given as a means to earn your salvation.’
Actually the Law of Moses was not a means of earning your salvation. God had made an irrevocable agreement with Abraham. So if God saved Abraham by grace through faith then the Law of Moses, given centuries later, could not change that. It could not be a means of earning salvation. Instead, it was given to show people how guilty they are (NLT). The Law of Moses showed people how greatly they needed salvation.
Imagine you dislike your doctor but you don’t realise how much contempt you have for him. Then you go for a check-up and he writes you a prescription. When you arrive home you look at his prescription, tear it up and throw it in the bin. The writing of that prescription ends up highlighting how little you think of that doctor. In a similar way the law showed people how unwilling they were to obey God and how much they needed his grace.
The Law of Moses was a temporary measure. There is a young lad who attends the Christian Union in University of Limerick who thinks that all the laws of the Old Testament are binding for today. But the Law was given from the time of Mount Sinai until the Seed (Jesus) came. We are no longer subject to its rules, rituals and regulations.
The Law of Moses was sterile—it could not create life. For if a law could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. But the Scriptures declare that the whole world is a prisoner of sin. The tragic reality is that we are incapable of reforming ourselves. We are incapable of the perfect obedience that the Law of Moses required. We are prisoners of our sinfulness. We could never have lived a life that would earn acceptance from a perfect and pure God.
The Law of Moses was put in charge (it was a custodian or guardian), until Christ came that we might be justified by faith (24). Paul has in mind the practice of having a well-educated slave act as a tutor to the heir of the estate. While that heir was a boy the tutor guided, corrected and even disciplined the child. But when he became a man, and the guardian’s work was finished.. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian. This is not saying that justification by grace through faith only came into being when Jesus arrived on the scene. We have already seen that Abraham is the great example of being justified by faith. However, before the life and death of Jesus had been revealed, people did not fully know the grounds upon which the living God accepted them.
So can you see that the Law of Moses complimented the message of grace by showing people their guilt and caused them to cry out for mercy? The Holy Spirit still has such a ministry—he convicts the world of guilt and sin. The life and teachings of Jesus do the same thing—they expose how unlike Jesus we are. Even our compromised consciences tell us that we have failed to live up to our own standards. But as we are brought to our knees we are comforted by the promise that God will never reject the contrite heart and that the one that looks to him and cried out ‘have mercy on me a sinner’ and pleads ‘save me’ is counted as justified.
Thirdly, grace is the basis for profound unity (25-29).
If you get grace you will realise your fundamentally equality with all of God’s people. You bring nothing to the table. Your background counts for nothing. Your family counts for nothing. It doesn’t matter whether you were proud and respectable do-gooder or a scandalous hooligan—you are simply a sinner saved by grace. Because pride is such a repugnant sin in God’s eyes, do-gooders are amongst the worst of all sinners. Will you admit that you were as far from God as the rapist you read of in the news?
You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. Grace is the great leveller. We all have of equal status before his eyes. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ. If you belong to Christ you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. If we understand the nature of grace we will be colour-blind, and we cannot be snobs.
Conclusion—to be fully known and completely loved
Grace tells you that you are far more sinful than you ever realised and far more loved than you ever dreamed. In grace we are fully known and completely loved.
Tim Keller writes, ‘To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything.’ I am struck that he writes in a book on marriage. If you are married, what your spouse longs for from you, more than anything else, is to know the security of being vulnerable and yet deeply loved.
People are longing to know that they can let their guard down with you. Those who grasp that they are more sinful than ever realised and more loved than they ever dreamed make great friends. I have a friend that I can be completely real with, and it is liberating. His love shows me a glimpse of how amazing grace is. Grasp something of the beauty of grace and you will no longer keep people at a safe distance. You will be free to shed that hard outer shell.
So let the grace that flows into you pour out of you, so that you can magnify the beauty of an eternally loving God and be a blessing to all who know you!