Over the past five months, several have turned to this blog to gain insights on matters of church administration. As I mentioned at the conclusion of last week’s post, this blog is now returning to its original intent of encouraging and exhorting us to live in, not of the world. The series of posts related to church administration will continue and expand (over time) beginning in September. But before that can happen, a few decisions must be made on some important details. An announcement will be made on this site on August 30, so please mark your calendars to check back at that time. At least one announcement will be made then. But it is possible two will be – and I am excited about the prospects of each!
This entry will be posted the day after the United States of America celebrates Independence Day. Officially, July 4, 1776 is the date that is remembered, but America actually declared her independence two days earlier on July 2. But this post is not about the type of independence and liberty that is often associated with freedom. Rather, the post is a reminder that true freedom comes from Christ.
This past week, I preached on Galatians 5. Paul begins the chapter with the statement that “For freedom, Christ has set us free.” This sentence comes after he has repeated made references to the challenge that these early believers faced with regards to a teaching that was corrupting their young faith.
In Galatians 1, Paul says that someone has come to purport a false gospel. As we read further, we deduce that the someone (or a group) is one in which Paul regularly refutes – members of the circumcision party.
Paul connects the dots of faith through the story of Abraham – the very one God circumcised as a “mark” to be made on all who claimed to be God’s people in the Old Testament. However, Paul clearly shows that faith is above the law and that the people are returning to a form of bondage that their faith in Christ has removed.
By the time Paul gets to the text we call Galatians 5, he has reached a climax in his argument – an argument that is as important to Christians today as it was to the various churches in the region that first read this letter.
Interestingly, it is not until Galatians 5 that Paul first mentions the idea of love in this letter (verse 6, then 13 are the first two instances of the word). When we are in bondage, love is difficult. But when we are free, we are free to love. Paul knew that, and the progression of his argument reveals it. In fact, just before Paul first uses love, he argues that in returning to the idea of religious customs over faith, the people have chosen to be justified by the Law (particularly circumcision, but as Paul says, to accept part of the Law is to embrace the fullness of the Law) is to dismiss (fall away) the grace of God. It is that grace that is an expression of what true love is, and thus, by rejecting God’s grace, we also reject the ability to truly love.
Although I could spend pages writing on this passage, the purpose of this blog is to help my readers (and remind myself) understand what it means to live in, not of the world. Thus, I need to provide a little background, but also provide some practical application.
The Bible is clear that for those who have their faith in Christ, freedom is the result. That freedom is from being a slave to the desires of the flesh. Such freedom does not mean we always live freely, but the freedom is available. That is the exact argument that Paul is making in Galatians 5, in particular. In the latter part of Galatians 5, Paul provides a contrast between what the flesh desires versus what the Spirit offers. Verse 25 says that if we live by the Spirit, we will also walk in the Spirit. And shouldn’t that be the goal for all who believe in Christ? Shouldn’t we desire to walk in the Spirit – to walk according to His desires. To live according to the fruit described in verses 22 and 23?
If we do live by that fruit, we will become more fruitful. If we live by the Spirit, we will become more like Jesus. In fact, that is the very promise Jesus makes in John 15 (especially in verses 1-11). But we are not accustomed to living like that. In fact, from our earliest days, we condition ourselves to live according to what we shouldn’t do, rather than what we should do.
As a young child, you had very few desires. You wanted to play, to eat, to grow up, and to NOT get in trouble. So, what did you do? You learned what you should not do to not get in trouble. When you were “being good” or taking the advice to “be nice” you were not thinking of the trouble you could get into. You were simply free to do what you wanted. But when you started to think about doing something wrong, you started worrying if someone would find out.
Of course, the Bible gives us a list of commands we are not to do. “Thou shalt not…” has been ingrained to many people over the last 3+ millennia. But what I find is that I don’t worry about the command not to murder because I do not have that desire. But I concern myself with the command about not having other gods before God because I can get distracted and misplace my priorities.
So, for those who desire to become more like Jesus, I share Paul’s simple statement to live and walk by the Spirit. The statement is simple; the process is not. But, if we do, and as we do, the results will be profound. But how can you know if you are living and walking according the Spirit? Let me share two quick thoughts.
First, on what do you focus? Are you focused on someone finding out what you are doing wrong? Then you may be living a life that is “good,” but you are not living a life that is free.
Second, are you growing in the fruit of the Spirit? If you find yourself more loving, more patient, more faithful, exercising more self-control, etc., then you are moving in the right direction. Will you make mistakes? Yes! But over time, if you are living and walking by the Spirit, you will notice yourself becoming more like Him. And others will notice too.
So, will you live in fear or live free? Remember, “For freedom, Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5.1). The reality is that you can live a life that is free or a life of fear. Jesus offers the freedom, but the choice is up to each of us to make for ourselves.