Debating the pros and cons of a life wedded to Christ – me or you, a microcosm of the Church – can seem pointless and fruitless in battle with an atheist. They cannot know the light of life that we have experienced, and God has made it so that we cannot explain what we have experienced. Convincing people takes more than words, yet words and actions – an observation of both – are at the start of Gospel belief when the door of the heart is ajar.
Imagine Paul experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit as the law – which was much more onerous and unforgiving than it is today – was overcome on this occasion:
“But even Titus, who was with me, was not compelled to be circumcised, though he was a Greek.”
— Galatians 2:3 (NRSV)
The lines may have been somewhat blurred, in that Titus was Greek and not a Jew, but Paul and Barnabas, with Titus, were claiming Christ and, with that, salvation by grace – not the works of circumcision – which is what the Judaizer’s required. The Judaizer’s believed in Christ, but brought into their faith some heretical additions; significant parts of Judaism, notably, in this case, circumcision.
Paul is saying “we are free in Christ,” and “indeed, if we hold to circumcision, we resist freedom and have chosen to no longer be free,” and “perhaps you have never tasted this freedom to know its priceless value.” This surrendering of the freedom of grace – if they were to insist on circumcision – is to deny the works of Christ to release us from our needing to work for our salvation. Jesus did it all on the cross. And his resurrection is the holy power of God for life. We can add nothing, and we should not attempt to add anything.
Salvation as far as Paul is concerned is like being pardoned part way through our prison sentence. The jail doors are unlocked, the guards bid you farewell, and you, somewhat bemused by it all, walk right out of there shaking your head in joy. Can you imagine saying to the guards, “lock those doors again, I’m staying right here!”
Nobody resists freedom when they see it for what it is.
What About Today?
People cannot be genuinely interested in ‘religion’ unless it offers them something tangible or something so incredibly alluring. Faith – a much better word for ‘religion’ in the Christian landscape of thought – is one of those, and usually the latter. Those yet-to-believe cannot believe unless they perceive it to offer freedom. Only the Holy Spirit will convince them.
Our freedom is simply to live it and agree with God never to coerce people into belief.
The Gospel is a free gospel. It requires no work, because, once the Gospel is won to our hearts, we are convicted to turn toward God. We see that freedom is doing God’s will – and to choose it, we see, is wisdom.
Salvation means saving, and a Christian’s salvation is freedom. This freedom is the joy of discerning and doing God’s will – to choose for it and to live it – and to know the human-religion rule book has been thrown out because it is offers nothing and, indeed, repels the Gospel, which is life.
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.