“You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?”
A few days ago, we brought the kids to New Haven to see Les Miserables. It’s a long musical, but the kids were spellbound. We grabbed a bite to eat before the show at a restaurant a few blocks from our hotel. But nothing is done in ordinary fashion with three young boys.
The trip to the restaurant turned into a race. Rich and Sam sped off, leaving Timmy, Jack and me in the dust. We straggled behind until the little guy came to a complete stop. “Something’s in my shoe,” he said. Against my wishes, he was wearing his orange crocs without any socks. I lifted up his right foot and there was a layer of brown smeared across his heel and stuck to his shoe. It was disgusting. “What did you step in, Timmy?” I asked. He had no idea and there was nothing I could do. I had left my giant ‘mom-purse’ back at the hotel in favor of a small cross-body for our night out. I had no wipes, sanitizer, tissues or other mom essentials. “You’ll have to wait until we get to the restaurant,” I said. “There’s nothing I can do right now to clean you up.”
He widened his stance and tried to tiptoe. After a few more awkward steps, he stopped again. “I think it’s in the other shoe too,” he whispered.
He was right. It was everywhere.
By this time, Rich sent Sam running back to check on us. I pointed to Timmy’s feet to show him what was holding us up. That’s when Sam enlightened me. “That’s not poop, mom. Timmy snuck two fun-size Milky Ways and hid them in his shoes so he could eat them during the show. We knew it would be a looooong musical.”
I’m still not sure if Timmy had forgotten he put them there or if he simply didn’t understand that they had melted against his sweaty little foot. And as I write this I’m wondering why Sam knew about this Milky Way mischief in the first place….
Needless to say, Timmy lost the race to the restaurant. Milky Ways in your shoes will always keep you from running a good race.
In Galatians 5:7, the apostle Paul writes to the church: “You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?”
In the case of the Galatians, the people who ‘cut in’ on them were called Judaizers. Judaizers demanded that Gentile Christians must be circumcised, as prescribed by Old Testament law, in order to be saved. Paul fervently argues that salvation is by faith alone. The Judaizers got the Galatian church off course by teaching them that obedience to the law (including being circumcised) would save them. Not grace. That kind of thinking, Paul says, veers you off the race track.
In the musical, Les Miserables, law and grace are seen at odds through the characters of Inspector Javert and Jean Valjean. Javert reveres obedience to the law. Jean Valjean broke the law by stealing a loaf of bread in order to feed his sister’s hungry child. He served 19 years of hard labor in prison. Upon his release, Valjean becomes an upstanding citizen, owner of a factory and mayor of a small town. He demonstrates mercy and grace at every turn because he had been shown the same by a bishop who ‘bought his soul for God.’ Valjean is a new man. Still, Javert relentlessly pursues Valjean, unable to comprehend a life that is built on grace.
The search is over when the two confront each other and Valjean begs the inspector for mercy. Valjean needs three days to retrieve the child of one of his factory workers who is on her deathbed. But Javert will show no mercy even when former prisoner-turned-mayor pleads:
Listen to me! There is something I must do.
This woman leaves behind a suffering child.
There is none but me who can intercede,
In Mercy's name, three days are all I need.
Then I'll return, I pledge my word.
Then I'll return...
You must think me mad!
I've hunted you across the years
A man like you can never change
A man such as you.
But God’s grace does change people. When we forget that, then we’re allowing something very dangerous to cut us off in the middle of our race. We are not saved because of how good we are. We are saved because of how good God is.
Of course, we must obey God, but obedience is not the basis of our salvation. God’s grace, by faith, saves us. Then by God’s spirit, we are changed and we desire what pleases God.
Is anything getting you off track in your faith journey? If you want to run a good race in this Christian life, then remember God’s grace in your life. See it at work in the lives of others. And as a practical matter, Milky Ways in your shoes will most certainly slow you down.