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For those of us who live in America, we bask in a freedom unparalleled in other parts of the world. While we may not often think about our freedom because it is so much a part of our existence, as we all know our freedom isn’t free. It has come at a great cost of innumerable American lives over the past two plus centuries that America has existed to keep us a free nation, and for that we owe our military personnel–living and dead–a huge debt of gratitude.
Huge . . .
As Christians, there is another type of freedom even more precious than the freedom we enjoy living here in America, and that freedom is found in a living, breathing, and vital relationship with Jesus Christ. Jesus stated in John 8:36, “So if the Son [Jesus Christ] sets you free, you will be free indeed.” And that freedom knows no geographical or political or any other type of physical boundaries. It is also a freedom accessible to every human being on the planet who chooses to believe in Jesus Christ as the one and only true Son of God (see I John 5) who offers salvation to all who believe in Him. As Jesus stated in John 3:16-20 states:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son [Jesus Christ], that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.
As I was sitting in the balcony of the church I attend this past Sunday morning singing along with the worship team who was singing on the stage below, there was (and usually is during worship singing) a “Presence” unlike in any other setting that is so inspiring, so magnificent, yet so humbling that it fills the auditorium and often I find tears rolling down my cheeks. For some reason, I find that to be a bit awkward (the tears, I mean) in a public setting, yet the power of the words and the music while worshiping the only true God there is can be overwhelming (in a very good sense). God is “Holy, holy, holy” and so often during the week we don’t give Him much thought as we rush around with our busy schedules checking items off of our “to do” list.
Holy, holy, holy . . .
God’s holiness, much like our freedom here in America, often goes unnoticed as we live out our days and weeks and months and years, except in seemingly appropriate settings, like church for example (e.g., worshiping God’s holiness) or holiday settings like Memorial Day and the 4th of July (e.g., celebrating our freedom as Americans). Yet both are an intricate part of who we are–all the time–as Christians here in America (of course, for those who consider themselves to be Christian as we do live in a pluralistic society). And, our ultimate freedom–freedom in Jesus Christ–goes far beyond any physical boundaries.
Since the 4th of July holiday here in America just passed a few days ago, now is a good time to be reminded about our freedom in Jesus Christ. One of the key passages in the New Testament regarding our freedom in Christ is Galatians 5. The Apostle Paul reminds us that our freedom in Christ is not a thing we should take for granted. Let’s read what he had to say to the believers in his time (and for our time, too):
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion, whoever that may be, will have to pay the penalty. Brothers and sisters, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!
You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.
(Note: A previous blog post, “Freedom in Christ,” on the same topic hits on what Paul was getting at when he addresses the issue of circumcision at the beginning of this passage. Legalism still had a crippling hold on them and it was alienating them from Jesus Christ.)
Just as the freedom we enjoy living in America comes at a great price as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, so our freedom in Jesus Christ comes at a great price, too. It was the price Jesus Christ paid when He died to set us free–free from the shackles that bind sin to us (as noted in the above passage in Galatians). Often it’s our misunderstanding of that freedom that keeps us chained to those very sins as we don’t want to let them go.
Jesus Christ didn’t set us free to keep on living the way we did before we knew Him. Not at all . . . . And that freedom noted in the passage above isn’t about making sure we cross every “T” and dot every “i” while walking a religious tightrope, either. I sometimes feel that way when I’m at church–like I have to look, dress, and talk a certain way to be accepted by many of the “others.” And that is just as confining as the “sin that so easily entangles us” (see Hebrews 12:1-2). It’s not about pleasing others, no matter who those “others” might be. It’s about pleasing Jesus, and that’s the bottom line. Let’s read that passage in Hebrews:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses [see previous chapter in Hebrews 11], let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
“Fixing our eyes on Jesus” . . . and not the crowd!!! And that’s not easy to do at times, either, as we all want to be accepted. However, as Galatians 5:1 reminds us:
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
And that includes any “yoke of slavery” put on us by others to conform us to their ways. While our freedom in Christ is not a license to keep on sinning (as Galatians 5 clearly points out), it is the key to the freedom that we crave and that Jesus is so willing to give us if we turn to Him and “fix our eyes” on Him. Period. Just ask Him for His help and His wisdom, and He will give it to you. And that’s a promise, too (see James 1:2-8).
And remember that our freedom . . .
Is not found in the approval of others . . .
It is only found in Jesus Christ . . . .
~~And don’t ever forget that fact!~~
YouTube Video: “Shackles (I Just Want to Praise You)” by Mary Mary:
What does freedom in Christ mean? The Apostle Paul had to deal with the whole issue of circumcision (clearly indicating a fallback to legalism) when he wrote to the Christians in Galatia. Legalism had a crippling hold on them and he clearly stated that if they went back to being justified through circumcision (e.g., works) that they would have to obey the entire law, clearly alienating them from Christ (Galatians 5:2-6). Let’s read that passage: “Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” [emphasis mine].
Okay, I can hear some of you saying, “What has that got to do with me?” Many times we as Christians practice our own form of circumcision (legalism) without even realizing it. When we try by our outward actions and appearances to make a “show” of following after Christ, we are trying to be justified by those actions (perhaps a list of “rules” we follow or keeping a laundry list of “sins” we haven’t committed to show our “goodness” as opposed to others we perceive as being more “sinful” then us). And, as Paul clearly stated, that has absolutely no value and that “the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Gal. 5:6).
Let me ask a question to get us thinking about this topic (e.g., legalism). If we attend church every Sunday, does that make us feel somewhat superior to those who don’t or justified that we have fulfilled our weekly obligation to God and can now spend the rest of the week doing whatever we want? The issue is not about actually attending church on Sunday morning. No–the real issue is our heart attitude and our motive for going in the first place. Our only real motive for going should be to worship God for who He is, and Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, with others who are there to worship God and Jesus Christ, too. Any other reason is peripheral “stuff.” And if we are going in an effort to try to earn points with God or with others, we might as well stay home.
I’m not trying to come down on anyone by asking that question. I’m trying to get us to think about our relationship with Jesus Christ and what He really means to us and how it affects how we live our own life and how we treat others. Are we self-focused, or are we other-focused? Because we are human we can’t be perfect at this but we can’t use that as an excuse either for continuing to live our lives self-consumed and in any manner that we see fit to live.
Paul continues in his classic chapter (Galatians 5) on what freedom in Christ really means with the following, “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other” (Gal. 5:13-14).
It is our own sinful nature that seeks to attain a status of “goodness” in the eyes of God and others through our own “works” while continuing to live life on our own terms. And whenever our sinful nature is in control we look out for ourselves first and foremost, instead of looking out for others. So let me ask a second question. Is what others think of us (e.g., being accepted, being respected, being elevated to a prominent status in the eyes of others, and looking good by all outward appearances to the rest of the world, etc.) more important to us then what God desires for our life and how He wants to use us in this world to bring others to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and helping others grow (including ourselves) in their relationship with Him?
Our sinful nature is in direct conflict with the life in the Spirit of God that comes through our relationship with Jesus Christ. If we allow ourselves to be lead by God’s Spirit we will not be self-consumed. Paul clearly states that “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal. 5:19-21). Is there anything in this list that is a regular, ongoing part of our life?
Do we want to know what life in the Spirit really looks like? Paul tells us that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other” (Gal. 5:22-26). Yes, those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with it’s passions and desires.
In closing, I want to go back to what Paul stated in Galatians 5:14-15: “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself ‘ [emphasis mine]. If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” If we clearly understand what those two verses are saying, the consequences of living a selfish, self-consumed lifestyle and NOT loving our neighbors as we love ourselves are staggering, not only to us as individuals but spreading out to our nation as a whole. After all, it is individuals who make up a nation.
The choice is pretty clear . . .
Will we make the right one?
YouTube Video: “Change Me” by Shannon Wexelberg on her CD “Faithful God” (2007):