Works = Conformity = Fear: Why I Need Grace

Posted by Randy | Labels: , , | Posted On Wednesday, March 11, 2009 at 7:33 AM

This morning I'm doing my Life Journal reading, and I'm finding all kinds of great stuff. I see things in Deuteronomy 16-18 and Psalm 38 that speak to me. But it's when I'm reading in Galatians 2 that God really opens my eyes.

Paul is talking about a confrontation he had with Peter. Peter had learned from God in a vision in Acts 10 that the old ways of the Law no longer applied to Christ followers. In fact, all those things had become "works," ways to earn God's favor, and they were no longer needed because of Christ. Peter now knew he was free to have fellowship with Gentiles, the old food laws no longer applied, and he would ultimately determine that Gentiles didn't have to become Jews first (being circumcised, followed the rules of the Law, etc.) in order to become followers of Christ.

Peter comes to Antioch, Paul tells us, and at first was really demonstrating a faith and trust in Christ's plan. But, when some Jewish Christians joined him, he reverted to older ways, setting aside many of the freedoms Christ had won for him and all his followers. Under the pressure of conformity, fear reared its head in his life, as it had the night he betrayed Jesus, and he allowed the old ways of Law and works to regain a hold on him.

Paul writes in Galatians 2:18 (NLT): "...I am a sinner if I rebuild the old system of law I already tore down." As I read this, I felt like I have often been in Peter's place, rebuilding the old system of law that God's grace through Jesus Christ had already torn down in my life. The culture around us is built on "law," or "works," so that people are applauded by their "doing" even more than "being" who they are. This isn't all bad in our culture, but when this cultural norm bleeds over into our who we are, we find it easy to conform. A lifestyle built on how well we do is easy to understand: do good and be rewarded; do bad and suffer for it. But since we can't be "good" all the time, the danger is that we allow this cultural lifestyle to begin to dictate who we are. The adjectives and adverbs that describe how we are living, over time, become the nouns that indicate who we are. We become trapped in this and start feeling the need to do things to build ourselves up in our eyes and the eyes of those around us. This leads to cultural conformity and peer pressure. And I've discovered over the years I can easily fall back into this just as Peter did.

What I get out of this story is that whenever I feel pressure to conform, whenever fear begins narrowing my options and choices, I better be careful. There's a high likelihood that I'm rebuilding "the old system of law" that Christ has already torn down in my life. And what I've discovered is that, in our culture, this is typical, the norm, for us to feel a natural (sin-generated) pull toward this conformity and, ultimately, fear.

This is why grace is the answer! God's grace accepts me - I'm empowered to be me, not the cultural norm. Grace enables me to fight conforming to the patterns and culture of this world and, instead, be transformed into a new person (Romans 12:2). When I live in God's grace and love, His perfect love pushes out the fear (1 John 4:18) so that we don't have to "conform" but we can live freely as the individuals God created us to be, for whom Jesus died in order to free us, and for whom the Holy Spirit empowers us to become.

The "take away" for me in this reading is that when I feel the pressure to conform, the fear of not fitting in or doing what everyone wants or expects me to do, I'd better take a step back and see if I'm not rebuilding "the old system of law" in my life that Christ helped me tear down. The truth is, this is going to be a life-long struggle for me, and it's why I need to spend time in God's Word each day, to remind me of this grace that sets me free! I hope you're discovering the power of this grace in your life, too!