One of my favorite passages in the Pauline Epistles is found in the Book of Galations. Paul has such a unique way of shooting straight from the hip - he doesn't pull his punches, but lays things out exactly as they need to be said in order for us to really "get" what is meant. Maybe this is why I really enjoy the epistles so much. They are among my favorite passages from the Bible and often are my "stopping off" point in my reading. Contained within the short pages of these letters are some rich points for living - things which give us the hope upon which we base our lives, centering us on the "right stuff" in order live godly lives. The Galation believers all started out well - believing Jesus' death, burial and resurrection to have created a "fresh start" for both the Jew and the Gentile alike. No need to keep the "old rules" any longer, as GRACE was the beginning AND ending point - not the keeping of all the right rules. This grace was totally based on the work of another - no longer on the works of the individual or the priest - but of Christ and Christ alone.
The person who lives in right relationship with God does it by embracing what God arranges for him. Doing things for God is the opposite of entering into what God does for you. (Galations 3:11 MSG)
Honestly, I think we all "start out" well, but somehow drift back into an old belief pattern or two along the way which brings us right back to trying to change our character in our own efforts. Paul's main purpose in writing to the Galations was to open their eyes to the silliness of trying to "undo" what God had already done! You see, he points out the "finished" work of the cross - the work which sets us right before God, covering over our sinful character with the atoning blood of Jesus, and giving us new hearts, renewed minds, and revived spirits. WE attempt to "undo" what God says is already a "done deal" whenever we drift back into the pattern of thinking we need to do the work of creating a new heart!
Character worthy of being called "Christ-like" is transformed - not "conformed". To conform, one comes into alignment through a series of movements - there is a whole lot of effort on our part with conforming. To be transformed, one exchanges one nature for another. The difference is based on "who" does the work. Conforming is done by us - transforming is done by another (Christ). To really understand this, we can go to another Pauline epistle to the Roman church where we find Paul outlining the difference between conforming and transforming. Don’t be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you can figure out what God’s will is—what is good and pleasing and mature. (Romans 12:2 CEB) Look at how he uses these two terms. Conform is used to describe how WE mold ourselves to certain patterns, customs, or beliefs - it is our effort. Transform is used to speak of the transition of thought which occurs when a mind has been made new (renewed) - this speaks of an exchange of one thing for another. The difference between the two really is in the "exchange" work - not in the "conforming".
So, in returning to our passage from Galations, Paul is again reiterating the importance of not being "conformists" to some set of standards, rule-keeping, or belief systems. Rather we are to be "transformed" - allowing the exchange of our wrong thought patterns to be replaced with the understanding of the "work" of grace in our lives. Grace is unmerited favor - as such, we do nothing to "deserve" it. It comes without strings attached. We don't "do" to "get" - we simply trust. If we are to be "transformational" in our walk, we are to embrace what God is doing in us. Now, if you have ever "embraced" something, you know it implies a willing acceptance of something. You take it "willingly" because you want to avail yourself of what is exchanged in the embrace.
If you embrace a certain manner of thought, don't you do it because you believe beginning to act according to those thoughts will result in something you will benefit from? For example, if you begin to accept (embrace) the thought pattern of saving a little each paycheck, isn't it based on the thought of exchanging a little of today's pleasures for a little security for tomorrow? You save because you want a little "nest egg" to fall back on in an emergency, or because you want to take a lovely vacation. You "embrace" the new thought pattern, allowing it to become habit (character). You had to exchange one thought pattern - spend all you get - for another - save a little, you'll need it later.
Here's what I hope we will get from this passage today. It is not what we can do for ourselves which matters - character is changed by "embracing" what Christ has done in and for us until it comes through us! We need to change our thought patterns - no longer seeing we need to "conform" to something we do, but allowing the "transformation" of thought to come as we rely upon God to fully reveal in us what he has already declared to be totally and completely there already! Character is transformed by embracing what God says about us, what he has created afresh within us. The more we "hold onto" the idea of needing to conform, the less we will be open to God doing the work of "transformation" which only comes by embracing what he has already done! To embrace, one needs to open up empty arms. As long as we have them filled with the stuff we are trying to manage on our own, the less likely we are to get close enough to really embrace. Just sayin!