Late last week, I tweeted something that I thought was pretty funny, clever, and theologically informed. (The Tweet has since been deleted, and I won’t tell you what I wrote. The content of the tweet isn’t important and it won’t benefit anyone if I repeat it here.) I came home later that day and after talking to Carly she gently rebuked me about my Tweet. She said, “You know, that was really unnecessary. You kind of seemed like the theology police.”
What happened next can only be attributed to the Holy Spirit: I had this overwhelming sense that I actually needed to listen to her (crazy concept, I know…a husband listening to his wife’s correction). I looked at her, nodded and said, “Okay, I didn’t even see it that way. You might be right.” Then, I left to workout at the Y.
At the gym, I thought about what she said. God taught me a precious lesson. What was really happening, at a heart level, was that I was trying to justify myself by my Twitter account. By God’s grace, I don’t do this every time I churn out 140 characters and click “send.” But on this occasion, unfortunately, I was trying to show God, my Twitter followers, and even myself that I am righteous because of my good theology and my recognition of bad theology. I was exalting myself and my efforts rather than exalting Jesus and his work in the gospel.
Twitter didn’t exist in the first century, but if it had existed, I have no doubt disciples of Jesus, like the Galatians, would have been tempted to resort back to a works-based system via tweet rather than trust in what Christ had done for them. The Galatians put their hope in God’s law, in general, and circumcision, in particular. Here’s how Paul responded to their problem: “We know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ… because by the works of the law no one will be justified” (2:16).
And here’s the interesting thing: Paul is writing this to Christians. The Galatians were forgetting that they were freely justified by faith. The result was that they were seeking to progress in the Christian life (what we call sanctification, see 3:3-5 and below) by depending on works instead of living out of the freedom Christ provided (see 5:1). They thought that adherence to God’s law would make them more acceptable to God and others than they already were because of Christ.
My temptation isn’t to add circumcision or dietary laws or even following the Ten Commandments to what Jesus has done. No, I feel more righteous, more sanctified, by showcasing my theological knowledge, my devotional discipline, or anything else that I think I do “well.” If Paul were writing to me he might have said, “Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by your Tweets, James?…Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by Twitter or theological debates or quiet times, or by hearing with faith?” (3:3, 5). In other words, my Tweets or blogs or devotional times or theological competence does not make me more acceptable to God than I already am in Christ. The pressure is off. The gospel secures my righteousness. What good news!
O Father, would that I hear the gospel with faith today! I am a supremely loved and perfectly accepted son because of Jesus’ righteousness-providing obedience and sin-bearing death. Let Christ-exalting Tweets flow from that!