Grace Over Effort: Unpacking the Old and New Covenant

17 Dec, 2023

Grace Over Effort: Unpacking the Old and New Covenant

Embracing Grace in Galatians

In our journey through Galatians, we’ve arrived at a pivotal chapter that challenges us to examine our spiritual foundations. Galatians 4 invites us to discern between living under the old covenant and embracing the new, grace-filled arrangement with God. This understanding is crucial for a fulfilling relationship with the Lord.

The Dilemma of Mixed Covenants

Galatians 4 presents a stark choice: live under the old covenant with its rituals and laws or embrace the new covenant of grace. Often, believers mix elements of both, leading to confusion, unanswered prayers, and a lack of peace. This chapter warns against such a blend, highlighting that a partial commitment to grace is no commitment. The message is clear: we cannot mix the old and the new; to experience true freedom and peace, we must fully embrace the covenant of grace that Jesus secured.

The Judaizers’ Influence and the Simplicity of the Gospel

The influence of the Judaizers in Galatia was profound, adding human effort to the simplicity of the gospel. They preached a message of “Jesus plus something,” diluting the powerful truth that Jesus’s work on the cross is complete and sufficient for our salvation. This chapter reminds us that the gospel is simple and profound: Jesus’s sacrifice alone is enough. Our role is to accept this gift, understanding that our salvation is not a result of our efforts but His grace.

The Old Covenant Versus the New

Galatians 4 contrasts the demanding and ultimately unattainable requirements of the old covenant with the liberating grace of the new covenant. The old system was based on human effort; even a single misstep could lead to failure. However, we find a refreshing shift under the new covenant: it’s not about what we can do but what Jesus has already done. Embracing this truth frees us from the burden of trying to earn God’s approval and allows us to live in the fullness of His grace and love.

The Hard Life of Following Old Rules

Living under the old rules, like the ones in the old covenant, is tough. You always try to show God how good you are, but it never feels enough. You can’t relax or enjoy being with God because you’re always busy trying to do things to make Him happy. It’s like being in a race that never ends. 

This is why some people get tired and leave the church. They feel like they can’t ever do enough, just like people who try to please gods who are never happy. When people who used to believe in these kinds of gods become Christians, they sometimes still think they need to work hard to make God happy.

The Peaceful Life with the New Covenant

But life is different under the new covenant, the new promise from Jesus. It’s like finally being able to rest and know you’re okay. Jesus did everything needed so we don’t have to keep trying to be perfect. Living this way means we stop trying to do everything ourselves and accept the peace Jesus gives us. He made it so we can be forgiven and accepted by God’s family. 

When we choose this new way, we say yes to life without perfection because Jesus was perfect for us. We get to be close to God not because of what we do but because of what Jesus did for us.

Finding Freedom in God’s Grace

When you truly understand God’s grace, a huge weight is lifted off your shoulders. You’re no longer trying hard to be good or avoid doing wrong. Instead, you let the Holy Spirit lead you. This way of living is not about following a bunch of rules; it’s about being guided by God’s spirit inside you. 

But while we’re still growing, we need guidance like kids do. In the Bible, Paul explains that the law was like our teacher, showing us right and wrong until we were ready for the freedom of being grown up in God’s family.

God’s Goodness Overcomes Our Mistakes

God’s way of treating us differs from what we usually expect. Most people think if you do good, you get good things, and if you do bad, bad things happen. This is like a rule everyone knows. But God’s grace is the complete opposite. Even when we’re not looking for God or loving Him, He loves us. He shows us kindness even when we make mistakes. 

From Slavery to Sonship and Inheritance

In Galatians 4:7, we learn a powerful truth: when we embrace God’s grace, we are no longer slaves but become sons and daughters of God. This change is enormous – it’s like going from having no freedom under a bunch of rules (the law) to being part of God’s family. 

Being a son or daughter of God means we get something special – an inheritance. But what exactly do we inherit? It’s more than just forgiveness or healing; it’s God Himself. Because of Jesus’s sacrifice, we inherit a relationship with God. He belongs to us, and we belong to Him. This deep connection with God is our true inheritance, far beyond any material things we might think of.

Knowing and Being Known by God

God knows us completely – every thought, every cell in our body. And the fantastic thing is, when we finally stand before Him, we’ll know Him just as completely as He knows us. We’re learning more about Him for now, but some Christians might be surprised when they get to heaven. They might find that God is different from what they were taught. 

The critical thing is to have a personal relationship with Jesus, to let Him know us deeply. That’s the assurance we need so we’re not among those who hear, “Depart from me, I never knew you.”

Reverting to Old Ways and Finding True Freedom

In Galatians, Paul confronts a common struggle: after experiencing the freedom of God’s grace, why do people turn back to the old, restrictive ways? He describes these as the “weak and beggarly elements” – the basic principles of the law where doing good brings good and doing bad brings bad. This is a stark contrast to the grace of God, which is not about earning God’s favor. Paul points out the silliness of returning to these old ways, emphasizing the importance of focusing on Jesus, not on ourselves. When we take our eyes off Jesus and start looking at our efforts, we fall into guilt, shame, and a sense of separation from God. The solution is simple yet profound: look to Jesus, talk to Him, and rest assured that you already have His approval.

Paul’s Relationship with the Galatians and Misunderstandings

Paul then shifts to reminiscing about his relationship with the Galatians, reminding them that his stern words aren’t because they’ve offended him. He recalls how they received him warmly despite his physical challenges, treating him with great honor. 

Paul’s mention of a trial in his flesh leads to speculation about his condition, with some suggesting he had a severe eye problem. This theory is partly based on his statement about writing in large letters, which some interpret as a sign of poor eyesight. 

However, Paul’s reference to large letters likely means the importance of his message rather than the physical size of the text. He clarifies that he didn’t physically write the letter but dictated it, debunking the theory of his having an eye disease based solely on this phrase.

Furthermore, using his condition to justify sickness or claim that God sends illnesses is a misinterpretation of Scripture. The Bible consistently shows God’s desire for healing and well-being. 

When dealing with sickness, it is essential to seek healing and comfort without attributing the illness to God’s will or using it to alter our understanding of His nature.

If we read further, Paul himself clarifies that the thorn was actually the severe persecution he faced. He describes it as a “messenger of Satan” sent to buffet him. This wasn’t a physical ailment but the intense opposition and hostility he encountered in his mission. 

Paul’s experiences varied dramatically – one day, he was revered, and the next, he faced violence from the very same people. Jesus warned that following Him would bring persecution, emphasizing that a servant is not above his master. 

Therefore, the idea that Paul’s thorn in the flesh was a disease is a misinterpretation; it was, in fact, the challenge of facing constant persecution for his faith.

The Dangers of Mixing Covenants and the Power of Prayer

Paul warns against the dangers of mixing covenants, urging believers to stay firmly under grace. He cautions that those advocating for a blend of law and grace, like the Judaizers, need better intentions. Their zeal is misleading and can lead believers back into spiritual bondage. 

Despite his stern rebuke, Paul expresses deep love for the Galatians, referring to them as “my little children.” He emphasizes the need for spiritual labor, like a woman in childbirth, to bring others to faith and maturity in Christ. 

This intense prayer and intercession are crucial for our family, friends, and even difficult coworkers. Paul underwent this labor twice for the Galatians: first for their salvation, then for their growth in Christ.

Paul’s Concern for the Galatians and the Essence of True Faith

Paul expresses profound concern for the Galatians, so much so that he doubts their understanding of the faith. He contrasts this with his approach to the Corinthian church, which had many moral failings. In Corinth, Paul corrected their actions by reminding them of their identity in Christ, never resorting to harsh criticism. However, with the Galatians, his tone changes significantly because they mixed the covenants. Paul goes so far as to wish that those who enforce circumcision would harm themselves, illustrating his strong opposition to any distortion of the gospel. 

This passage underscores a critical truth: the essence of faith is Jesus alone. Adding anything to His finished work creates a dangerous mixture that distorts the true nature of Christianity.


Thank you, Lord, for your grace. Lord Jesus, thank you for your grace. I am saved by grace through faith. I am approved by the blood of Jesus. I am accepted. I have been made perfect. I’m a child of God. I’m heaven-bound. I’m sealed with the Holy Spirit. Good things belong to me because the blood of Jesus has qualified me and made me worthy. A fiery, intimate relationship with God. Yes, that’s my portion. Prosperity is my portion. Healing is my portion. Victory is my portion. Thank you, Lord. The cross makes it possible. Amen.

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