Making a Difference
According to Saint Paul in his letter to the Galatians, human beings are made righteous not by “obedience to the Law, but faith in Jesus Christ”. Christians believe that being made righteous implies being judged to be good in the sight of God. But why, we may ask, do we need to be made proper in God’s sight? Have we not been made in the image and likeness of God?
The reality is that, since the fall of our first parents (Adam and Eve), we are all sinners. The presence of sin in our lives damages the integrity of our relationships – with ourselves, with others and, ultimately and most importantly, with God. If that integrity is ever to be restored, then something or someone has to undo the effects of sin. Otherwise, we could have no hope of being righteous. That is, pleasing to God. It is through Christ’s suffering and death that we have the possibility of being made righteous.
It may seem strange that we are made righteous by our faith in Jesus Christ instead of by our obedience to the Law. However, we must remember that faith in Jesus Christ does not exclude obedience to the Law – in fact, it demands such obedience – but obedience to the Law does not necessarily imply faith in Jesus Christ.
For example, we could be obedient to the Law for no other reason than to be seen to do so by those around us, thereby winning their admiration. But such obedience is insincere if our motivation is dishonest. While we may fool others, and even ourselves, we never succeed in fooling God. Our hypocrisy ensures that we would not be righteous because we can never please God by being hypocritical and dishonest.
In contrast, authentic faith in Jesus Christ implies that we are obedient to his word and, therefore, to the Law. Jesus himself said that he did not come to abolish the Law but to bring it to completion. That is why Saint Paul wrote to the Galatians: “Now we hold that faith in Christ rather than fidelity to the Law is what justifies us, and that no one can be justified by keeping the Law.” Keeping the Law is not sufficient in itself, unless our underlying motivation for doing so is our faith in Christ. Our motivation has to be obedience to Christ himself, who said: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”