Change is ever present in human history. Some people delight in change, but most feel comfortable in what are familiar circumstances. When Paul wrote the words of our title, I wonder if he was reflecting on the life he had lived as a zealous Pharisee. His personality was intense so whatever he took on, he seemed to do it with gusto. Maybe some of us are like that.
Writing to the church at Galatia, Paul is eager to defend faith in Jesus Christ. As a religious Jew Paul had kept the Mosaic law, hoping he would earn eternal life by his good works. There’s a degree of anxiety for anyone trying to earn their way to heaven, isn’t there? What celebration when he discovered he could only get to heaven through Jesus Christ! So, as he wrote to the Galatians “the life I now live”….what was it that made a difference?
Perhaps Paul’s purpose is spelled out in the first verse of his letter. He sees himself as one called by God. When he practised Judaism he also felt called by God to persecute the very One whom he now worshiped. He identifies Jesus Christ as one with God; amazing how Paul learned that the One he had formerly persecuted was actually who He said He was! “The gospel I preached….I received by revelation from Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:11-12). This revelation transformed Paul’s life!
Sometimes we find it difficult to define words and grace, God’s grace, may be one of them. It was a meaningful concept to Paul. He talked about the grace of Christ (1:6). Although he was “advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers” (1:14), God called him into His service, by His grace. The church leaders in Jerusalem recognized that this persecutor of the church had indeed been saved by God’s grace (2:9), agreeing Paul and Barnabas should become missionaries to the Gentiles. Who better than one who was also a Roman citizen?
God’s grace rules out any possibility of man accomplishing his own salvation. It is the gift from God (Ephesians 2:8)….a gift which must be believed and received (John 1:12). Paul wouldn’t set aside that fact for any consideration. If there was any other way to eternal life, then Christ died for nothing (2:21). Totally committed to faith in Jesus Christ, Paul was a changed man with a new life. So he writes about the “new life I now live” (2:20).
This new life includes freedom from guilt of the past, power for living the present and hope for the future when we reach our heavenly home. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm then and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery [to sin]” (Galatians 5:1). This new life gives us the power to forgive others as we ourselves have been forgiven and to restore. “If someone has been caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted” (Galatians 6:1). Paul goes on to assert there is ministry for us all in that we then are qualified to “carry each other’s burdens and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (6:2).
Carrying someone else’s burden call for grace. We need the fruit of the Holy spirit to equip us for that task. Only when we are changed, given new life, do we qualify as servants of God. Then we will experience the fulness of life in Christ, which brings richness, purpose and joy to the “now” in which we live.