A gracEmail reader asks, “Since no one is justified by the law” (Gal. 3:11), how can Paul say that he was “blameless” according to the law? (Phil. 3:6)”
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When Paul wrote that he had been “blameless” according to the Law, I believe he was stating the matter the way it had appeared to him before he came to know Jesus Christ. Many of us who grew up in what we considered “the true church” (and several different churches have claimed that distinction) can relate to Paul’s experience. We knew we were sinners because the Bible said so, but our doctrine allowed us to ignore that fact and claim to be righteous because we had kept the “important” commandments. In my particular “true church,” we believed that we had been properly baptized, that we worshipped scripturally and that our congregations were biblically organized. On that basis, we concluded that we were more acceptable to God than all the other professing Christians who, we were confident, could not make the same claims. (Each of the other “true churches” had their own lists of distinctives, of course, on which they relied for the same self-congratulation and comfort.)
When we came to know Christ, our Rationalized Righteousness was blown to dust. We realized that we will never be righteous based on our own performance, for we continue to come short of God’s glory (Rom. 3:23). We saw that we cannot “establish our own righteousness” through our record of obedience and good deeds, and that we needed to submit ourselves to “the righteousness of God” (Rom. 10:1-3). We realized that Christ is the end of law-keeping as a means of attaining God’s approval (Rom. 10:4). We saw that we had created a doctrinal system which was manageable and attainable in churchly details, but which ignored many of God’s clear commands to us as individuals. We realized that we had deceived ourselves into thinking that we were “righteous” because of our right knowledge and right practice, so that we could actually look down on all our “religious neighbors” (which was how we referred to Christians who did not belong to one of our churches).
We formerly preached ourselves — “the true church” with all its supposed “marks” and “distinctives.” When God shined the light into our hearts, we saw the glory of God in the face of Christ Jesus — and we knew that we must now preach Jesus Christ as the only Savior of sinners (2 Cor. 4:5-6). We were enslaved to our own misconception that God’s approval depended on our correct understanding and performance. When we truly saw Jesus, God lifted the veil from our faces and set us free — free to truly become all that God wanted us to be (2 Cor. 3:16-18). Yes, like Paul of old, we formerly thought we were “blameless.” But Jesus showed us what we really are apart from him. Now we trust in Christ alone, and we rejoice in God’s righteousness which he freely gives to all who put their trust in his Son (Phil. 3:8-9).