Those seeking to be declared right by God have only one option – grace. He is the one who can make the declaration, and all of mankind is subject to His determination. However, grace is a very peculiar thing. At its basest level, grace is simply the free giving of a gift. The word “grace” itself comes from the Latin, gratis – mercy, kindness, pardon; and it carries with it the idea that it is something unearnable. The nature of true grace is that it is not owed to the person who receives it. There is nothing they have done to earn it or merit it, therefore it is grace. The same is true with Divine grace. It cannot be earned or merited, it is simply given of the kindness and mercy of God.
In Galatia, the believers who were turning to law-following as their only hope of receiving the grace of God had lost sight of the nature of Divine grace. If they could earn the favor of God, then it wouldn’t be called “grace,” for grace is unearnable. So then why were they working so hard? What did they hope to accomplish by following the law so fastidiously? Paul argued, that if they were seeking to be justified by their works, then they were going to accomplish nothing. It was only by the beneficence of God that they could receive grace enough to be declared just or righteous before God. They were wasting their effort on something unaccomplishable. Like a man with a glass on the beach, attempting to drink the entire ocean one cup at a time, these law-followers confidently pressed into the truly indomitable task as though they could somehow achieve it.
According to Paul, in their attempts to achieve grace they had instead “fallen from grace.” They had departed from the true nature of grace. Paul continued to explain that true believers through the Spirit, by faith, wait to receive righteousness by the grace of God. This waiting is a two-fold waiting.
First, believers wait in the sense that they do not press on like the Judaizers seeking to work to earn God’s grace. Instead they patiently wait in faith to become recipients of God’s grace. Second, believers are promised a further extent of righteousness. Whereas presently, believers receive the declaration of God over them that they are righteous, they still continue to sin. Believers know however that this is not the final state of things. In Romans 8 we find that there is coming a day when all of creation, and every believer, will be renewed and remade. No longer will there be any sin, but instead, there will be pure, sinless, righteousness. This is the righteousness that believers hope for, and this is a righteousness too for which believers must wait.
Finally, Paul argues that when it comes to faith in Jesus and receiving grace, law-following or not law-following (he uses the specific example of circumcision) accomplishes nothing. Grace is freely given, so a person’s following or not following the law is never taken into account. So what does matter? Faith. While works do not predicate grace, God willingly extends grace to those who come in faith. This is echoed in Ephesians 2:8-9, where Paul writes, “For by grace you are saved through faith.” And as James 2 reminds us, it is not a faith that remains alone. Rather, the faith that is a grace-receiving faith is a faith that is infused with a life of Spirit-led love. It is a faith that works with love, obeying God’s moral law.
Food For Thought: What does the phrase “wait for the hope of righteousness by faith” mean?