Jeremiah says that if Israel returns to the Lord, they can be saved. This returning to the Lord is described as breaking up fallow ground and circumcising the foreskin of their hearts. But if they don’t do this, the wrath of God will come like fire that cannot be quenched. God promises to bring disaster on the people. He will come like a lion from the thicket, to lay waste the cities, shocking the inhabitants with His ferocity.
This cut-to-the-heart repentance is what evangelical faith is. The works of the law are attempts to build straw houses to protect us from the fury of God’s wrath. But it won’t stop the fire; it won’t keep out the Lion. The only way the law can save is if it is kept perfectly. But since no one keeps the law perfectly, it is just more flammable material. Clinging to your goodness is clinging to the very thing that paints you with a curse.
But Christ became our curse in order to take away the curse, so that the blessing of Abraham might come to the whole world. Faith clings to that promise.
There’s an old story of a father who was hiking in the foothills of California with his kids when a wildfire came up over the horizon. They headed in one direction and then another, but the fire was coming too fast and would soon overtake them. So the father took out a pack of matches and began setting the ground around them on fire, slowly burning a large circle until the flames of the wildfire were nearly upon them and then he huddled with his kids in the middle of the circle that had already been burned, until the wildfire had gone by, leaving them unharmed.
That’s what faith does. It knows that it cannot outrun the fire of God’s wrath against sin, and the only way to escape the fire is to somehow find a place where the fire has already burned. The cross of Jesus is that place where the fury of God’s wrath has already burned, where the curse has already been paid for and justice has been completely satisfied.
Do not try to find safety or meaning or security in your good works, in your goodness, or by comparing yourself to other people. Find your meaning, your security, your peace in clinging to Christ who is your righteousness and who has taken away the curse. Huddle in the middle of that circle.