I have mostly happy memories of church life growing up. From age 7 – 17, I attended the Antioch United Methodist Church in our hometown of Antioch, Illinois. To be sure, church services were boring – that’s not a happy memory particularly, but the people were nice. There was friendly Bob Olson, and elderly Betty Lu Williams, the former librarian whom we often gave a ride to church. I had friends like Steve Skidmore and Chuck Duha and Anne Schmidt. And as a family we rarely missed church. It was just part of life. I remember the smell of the place and the huge live Christmas tree we would have during Advent season, and especially I remember the minister – we didn’t call him pastor – we said “minister”, and our minister was a man named Steve Williams, who was there for almost all of my formative years. I called him Reverend Williams.
I think of Reverend Williams because of a verse in Galatians 3, where Paul writes…
Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Galatians 3:21a (ESV)
In other words, how can you have law…and grace? How can God both require obedience from people and also be gracious?
Many religions, all of them, in fact, except Christianity, don’t teach that you can have both – God is either a law giving judge, or He is God of love, but He is not both. But we Christians put both characteristics together. But how? How can you have law and grace together? Perhaps you think that the way to do this is to be gracious up to a point; then you lay down the law. Or perhaps you start with the law, but you aren’t a stickler about it – you give in with grace.
But a truly holy God can’t give in to wicked sinners. So which do you go with? A God of love, or a God of the law? In answer to Paul’s question, the law surely seems contrary to the promises of God.
That brings me back to my old minister Steve Williams. Sad to say that Reverend Williams died in 2005, and his wife Jo quoted him in his obituary. “He always said there is always more than one way to get to the top of the mountain. In other words, there is more than one way to believe and do good works, to be a Christian or a good person.”
So Reverend Williams was a classic liberal theologian, and therefore, he would have loved to talk about the grace of God, but I doubt he gave much attention to the law. And you know why, right? In Steve William’s eyes, God could not be both wrathful against sin, and merciful toward sinners. He could not be a God of wrath and a God of mercy.
And yet, in the Bible, we see God depicted both ways. He is both a holy law-giver, and perfect in love. He is both a holy God with perfect standards, and a loving, gracious God who welcomes sinners. But how? Look at what Paul wrote in verse 13…
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us– for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”– Galatians 3:13 (ESV)
The solution is found at the cross. We were under the curse of the law, liable to the wrath of a holy, law-giving God against sinners such as us. But this same God sent His Son who took the curse on Himself, enabling God to be lawful…and the perfect God of love we also see depicted in Scripture. As Paul wrote to the Romans…He was just, and the justifier of those who have faith in Jesus.
And there is no contradiction between God’s law and grace after all.
For Thursday, June 18th: Galatians 4