Galatians 2:16-20 October 28,1990
Being a disciple of Christ or a believer in God can often be a frustrating thing. No matter how hard we try to do things right, we seem so often to fail. We try to “be good” or promise to “do better”, but soon forget about our attempt and go back to living as we did before. We promise to fast, pray more often, give more to the church, attend church services more often, be more patient, be more loving, obey God more. But quickly we fall short, and feel unworthy as a child of God, or realize the Christian lifestyle is hard, too demanding, impossible to live up to. Or perhaps we torment ourselves, and do good and then worry about pride, being judgmental, being impatient with those who fail.
Have you ever felt this way?
St. Paul, the patron saint of our community, felt that way in his own life. He was a zealous Pharisee , strictly observing every law of the Jews. Yet no matter how strictly he followed those laws, he always failed in some point, he committed some sin and so he fell short of God’s expectation. That failure burned in Paul’s heart. Here he was trying to fulfill each and every commandment of God, and yet he failed on some major or minor point. He wanted desperately to please God, but was unable to fulfill every single law. Zealous as he was to fulfill every tiny law, Paul knew he could not win God’s favor, because he also always failed in some detail of the law.
Paul thought about this absurdity of life – here God promised to bless anyone who obeyed everyone of His commandments and yet it was humanly impossible to obey them all and never make a mistake. He was thinking about this absurdity and this frustration when he met God’s Son – Jesus Christ. And this encounter changed Paul completely. Paul realized that in Christ God’s promised blessings had already come and they came before anyone had completely obeyed all of God’s commandments. Paul realized that our proper relationship with God was established not by obeying all the laws of God but rather when we truly believed in God. Our relationship to God changes from a wrong relationship to a right relationship when we believe and love God in our hearts. When we know that God indeed is good, generous, merciful and one who fulfills every promise, that knowledge causes us to love God from the depths of our hearts.
Paul realized that trying to obey God’s law just to win God’s blessings did not work. Only a person who loved God in the depths of his or her heart could be approved by God. And people who love God in the depths of their heart think differently about what it means to be a Christian and a child of God.
When we love God we won’t spend time trying to figure out how to obey God just to get His blessings. When we love someone we don’t just think about what we can get from them. We think about how much we can do for them and what we can do to please them.
When we love someone we do not ask, “How much must I do to love them?” or “What is the minimum I must do to love them?” Love knows no limits. Questions like: “how much do I have to donate to the church?”, “how often do I have to go to confession?”, “how many or few services must I attend?” These questions may help us understand God’s law, but often serve to keep God away from our hearts. These questions are often the thoughts of minimalism and legalism. Faith means we simply totally trust God, totally serve Him, work for him, live for Him and die for Him. There are no quantities, no limits, no amounts. Love for God always grows and is never limited by fear, or rewards or the law.
When we love someone, we become concerned about their concerns, problems and burdens. When we love God we become willing to take on Christ’s burdens for the world. We will look at situations and at other people and we will ask, What does Christ want to do here? What is the Lord’s burden in this situation?
St. Paul in his letter to us today said it this way:
“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.
To be crucified with Christ is to share the motives, the purposes, and the way of life that led Jesus to the Cross, to take up the burden of the sins of others, forgiving and loving instead of condemning them; to make oneself a slave of every man, to create harmony by reconciling man to God and man to his fellow men; to pray without ceasing “Thy will be done”; to walk by faith where one cannot see; to leave earth praying “Father, into Thy hands do I commend my spirit”.
My friends it is too frustrating to think only about obeying God’s laws in the hope of receiving God’s promised rewards. It is too frustrating because we are in fact unworthy and we will fail at some point. But the one thing that we can do is to always love God. Love of God overcomes all failure, all fears, all mistakes.
Obedience to the law without love of God will result only in judgementalism, frustration, competition, impatience with others and despair.
If you have felt as a Christian frustration in trying to obey God, if you have felt a tremendous sense of unworthiness each time you have failed to accomplish your spiritual goals, if you have felt anger and impatience with the failures of your family members, there is a cure for you. The treatment is simple.
When you love God you will realize that questions about how much?, how often?, do I have to? are temptations to keep God away from your heart and your life.
When the Holy Spirit warms your heart with the love of God you will understand Paul’s words that Christ lives in me. And your whole life – your time, your self, your possessions will belong to Jesus Christ. At that time, you will have a happiness that can never be taken away.