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I remember the day I was saved. It was after church on a rainy night, by my little bed, just before being tucked in. That was the day I asked Jesus to come into my heart and save me. I wasn’t a horrible sinner, being not quite five, but I knew that I did and thought many naughty things that God didn’t allow in heaven. I knew from the moment I asked that He forgave me, loved me, and protected me so that nothing could hurt me.
Fast forward a little over twenty years. I am now finally coming back to this feeling of love, forgiveness, and protection from God. It began a few weeks ago, while I was listening to my pastor’s sermon on Luke. In his sermon, he referenced Proverbs 11:2: “When pride comes, then comes shame. But with humility comes wisdom.” I had recently been reading Recovering Grace articles, because I grew up in ATI, embraced the Basic Principles, and ultimately rebelled against them.
I admit this background to my shame. I am no longer proud of my legalistic upbringing: knowing the “right” answers, wearing the “right” clothing, having the “right” friends. I still struggle with judging people by their outward appearance and behavior, rather than seeing individuals that Jesus loves enough to die for them.
Tonight I read Galatians 5 with new eyes. Verses 1-6 state: “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love.”
In verse one, Paul starts off by stating that we who are saved are liberated, free, and therefore not to place ourselves back under any bondage. I love the words liberty and free! Verses two and three describe circumcision, an act of Old Testament law that every Jewish male had to fulfill in order to follow the Law of Moses. But Paul, a high-ranking Jew, states that if we try to fulfill the Law, Christ’s death on the cross means nothing to us and cannot save us. In fact, he describes us as estranged or separated from Christ, fallen from the grace that Christ extends to us.
So taking the first section of this chapter, Paul does not want us to follow laws and bind ourselves to rules and regulations to attain favor with God. In fact, he says we fall from grace when we try to use our own righteousness to justify ourselves. But when we live in the Spirit, we are using “faith working through love.” Now what does that mean?
Verses 13-15: “For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!”
We are called to liberty, not to offend others, but to lovingly serve one another. So our faith in God is worked out through our love for others. How do we show this love? “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39) is not just a cutesy saying for Sunday School. It has real hard choices and feelings attached. If I love my neighbors, then I help them out when I can, talk to them about my faith in God and relationship with Him, and do my best to show Christ’s love for them.
Paul also warns about the detrimental effects of not loving our neighbor. His exact words are bite, devour and consume. The picture that his words bring to mind is that of a dog tearing apart a piece of meat. I’m ashamed to say that I have mentally treated my fellow Christians the same way in the past. In my mind, I have condemned them for what I deemed to be improper dress, behavior, and music choices. I have torn them apart, biting and devouring them instead of loving them.
Paul continues in verses 16-18: “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.”
Is it just me, or does that sound WAY too simple and easy?
After all the rules, principles, laws, and bondage, Paul’s instructions are a welcome change! If I am walking in the Spirit, then I am listening to God’s leading. I love the promise of verse 16! “Walk in the Spirit, and you SHALL NOT fullfill the lusts of the flesh” (emphasis added). From the larger perspective, I have the Bible, and I believe that God uses Scripture, my conscience, and the Holy Spirit to help direct me in my daily life and decisions. In other words, I don’t need to question whether I am doing right or wrong. I know! I also know exactly what God thinks!
You may ask, What does this rambling have to do with freedom? Good question! I have lived to please the expectations of others too long. I have followed the Law, the rules, the regulations, and the principles. I can tell you confidently that they are a yoke of bondage created to cheapen Christ’s atonement for our sin.
I am now experiencing the freedom of Christ, freedom to love Him and to love others. Not a freedom to go out and do whatever I want, but to show love as I am led by the Spirit. As I revel in this regained freedom, I find that I am again secure in His love, forgiveness, and protection, just as I experienced after salvation.
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