This post is taken from the booklet An Invitation, Not a Challenge, by Everett Wilson, brother of Jim Wilson.
Nothing We Can Do
So in verse 21 Paul stops talking about our earning and starts talking about God’s giving. He takes us from a miserable Monday in February to Christmas morning, in one leap. On workdays, we earn; on holidays, we give and receive. But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. In this righteousness apart from the law, God intends to set us right, not put us in the wrong. While law establishes justice in the world through rewards earned and punishment deserved, this righteousness apart from the law is a transforming gift. We are set right by God, not by anything we do or say or pray. There is nothing we can do.
The alarmed response to that assertion comes faster than a speeding bullet. “Now wait a minute. There is too something we can do. We can believe. The next verse says that This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.”
Yes, we believe. But believing isn’t doing; believing is “not-doing.” Believing is letting God do it. Faith means treating the truth as true, but it doesn’t make the truth true. Why should anyone get credit for believing the truth? When you believe that God has a gift for you, you accept it, that’s all. You won’t get in the way of what God is doing for you. Saying that “faith did it” is as presumptuous as for a teen-ager to say he did the dishes because he didn’t pester his mother while she was doing them. It’s as presumptuous as saying you gave the party, when all you did was show up. Remember–the gospel is an invitation, not a challenge. It’s a gift, not a balance-due notice.
Long ago my father told me that a horse trapped in barbed wire will try to kick itself free, get further entangled, get badly cut up and will try even harder. Men around the horse can’t get close enough to set it free. But a mule will not kick, said my father. It will not add to its own problem. It will stand still, not hurting itself, and wait for its master to come and set it free.
To believe is to accept God’s gift–to accept it as real. If you do not accept it, the gift is not yours–but your acceptance doesn’t create the gift. The gift has been given already: For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. If it were not free, no one would get to heaven, because no deserves it.
As to the kind of gift it was, it was a sacrifice of atonement to get rid of the sin that keeps us from God. God didn’t forget our sins or ignore them; he got rid of them. He
took our sins upon himself so that they could be killed with Jesus when he was nailed to the cross. “Through faith in his blood”–the blood of Jesus—we accept this gift of freedom and life for ourselves. Never, ever, would we be able to get rid of the sin that separates us from God, but God can get rid of it, and he has! We do nothing. We trust him to do something, the way the mule trusts its master to set it free.
Nothing to Brag About
We have done nothing to brag about because we have done nothing: We haven’t paid our dues, we haven’t accepted a challenge, we haven’t obeyed the rules, we haven’t set ourselves free. Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith.
Let me emphasize: the Law is also a gift from God to the world. It shows us how to live in this world. It establishes justice in the earth. It teaches us in right ways. The law is wonderful in what it does. But let’s not expect it to do what it was never designed for that is, get us to heaven. Law teaches and guides us, but Jesus Christ changes us. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law. As sinners who can’t afford anything and deserve nothing, we wouldn’t want it any other way.
– Everett Wilson