I was talking with a friend this morning whose son just got out of a leg cast which had forced him into a wheelchair for a while and then onto crutches. He was telling me the strange unexpected phase 1 of post-crutches life was that his son still occasionally walked with a limp as if his leg was still in a cast and he wasn’t able to walk smoothly. The leg wasn’t the problem, it was his realization (belief) that he was healed. So he would catch himself limping, come to his senses and continue on with his healed walk.
This is a revealing parallel to our spiritual life. This morning’s sermon was on Galatians 5: 16-25, which starts and ends with the same concept: “16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.”
Paul is telling us that all who are in Christ have been healed and are invited to live “in step” with the Spirit, the power of our newly created life. He goes on in the passage to firstly describe acts of the “flesh”, which are practical ways in which we walk in synchronized cadence with our old sinful self-centered nature, and secondly the practical dance-steps that the Spirit is producing in our new nature (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control). Here is what Paul is saying: our old nature HAS BEEN, IS BEING, and inevitably WILL BE crucified with Christ. Our brokenness has been healed by our crucified Jesus as he was broken in our place on the cross…yet we still “walk with a limp” even though our bones have been put back together. We fall back to the muscle memory from our old nature and limp around (i.e. “sin”, or serve ourselves), but then the Spirit reminds us of who we really are…that our old selves have been crucified and we have been given a wholly new life with new abilities. Sin no longer has power over us, though it still have presence and annoying persistence. But in the end, the sinful nature will be fully and finally defeated at which time it will have neither power nor presence. But until that day we are called to remember the Gospel: Who Jesus is, what he has done on our behalf, and who we now are in Christ…and walk in step (cadence) with the Spirit not out of guilt or fear but because we are healed and made to dance.
5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
This has got to be one of the most debated, misunderstood and abused verses in Scripture. This even begin to understand this verse, we have to unpack what we mean by “freedom.” What does freedom mean to you?
- A day to yourself on the couch?
- You and your best friend going on a hike?
- Something a bit more “naughty”?
Our initial reaction almost certainly and understandably involves something that makes me feel good. It involves removing whatever we feel is binding us down. These can be things that we love and are really good (like relationships) or just the regular things of like (like responsibilities). But when we define freedom from this perspective, we are thinking way way too small. What is it that is truly chaining you down and enslaving you? Isn’t it the fear and insecurity of life? This is the freedom that the Gospel is inviting us into: to accept and actually enjoy the absolute and full approval of God thanks to the sacrifice of Jesus, who exchanged his freedom for our imprisonment, and enacted by the Spirit who breathes a new creation into our being.
This is freedom: that all fear of divine-rejection has been eaten up on the cross, fully and finally securing divine-approval on our behalf. Because of this there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1) regardless of our behavior. But because of this secured freedom, we are empowered by the Spirit to live a life of free-gratitude as we perpetually get brought deeper into personally owning the incomprehensible affection of our Father. An affection that is not fickle, being based upon how well we live up to our new identity. When I fail to live a life of love, Jesus’ love doesn’t falter. When I actually love others from a humble heart, Jesus’ love doesn’t rise. This is because all who are in Christ already have 100% of his love. He isn’t holding any back! We’ve got it all. For good. Forever. I don’t have to live in fear of disappointing him and having him begrudgingly accept me. And I don’t have to live in fleeting arrogance when I think I’ve “done better” than others (and I better keep it up, or else). Because it is through Love that we are brought home, and for love that we are empowered to live.
So what does that mean for my life? It means freedom. It means that, as I bask in the warmth of his smiling face, my heart if melted and I smile back. To him and to others.
Saint Augustine put is like this: “Love God, and do as you please.”
Yes, this scary and messy. Yes, it boils up a lot of questions of what I should do and not do. Yes, it forces us to enter an honest, conversational relationship with Jesus instead of leaning on the safer list of rules. And yes, this is the freedom that Jesus has secured on our behalf so that we can do what Malachi 4:2 promised: But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.
Brothers, I entreat you,
become as I am,
for I also have become as you are.
We are a polarized and polarizing people. We all sit on top of our pedestals as we look down and judge others for not being as enlightened as we are. We stereotype others, creating “straw-men” that we can blow over with our brilliant arguments.To make it more insidious, there’s people like me that polarize the polarizers! I arrogantly see myself as being more enlightened and wise so as to not pigeonhole others into simple categories…as I pigeonhole those who don’t see it my way. Here is the problem: we operate with a self-kingship mentality. From the very beginning of time (in the garden) we have decided that we wanted authority over everything and everybody (including God…especially God?). And we live this out in our regular, everyday lives, not really living “with” others but “over” them.
In light of this cultural and spiritual polarization, the verse above offers a lifestyle-hope called “incarnational ministry.” Paul entered the real, regular, messy, everyday life of the people of Galatia. He opened a small business (tent-making), lived in their neighborhoods and engaged their art forms (he would quote regional artists in some of his sermons). He became as one of them…he listened, learned and sought to actually understand; he actually loved them with a loving passion (he would call them his “children” and his “brothers”). But he didn’t stop there. In the midst of his relationships with them he also invited them to know the Jesus that loved and redeemed him from emptiness. His METHOD and his MESSAGE were the same thing: sacrificial relational love. He didn’t just stay on the outside, telling the Galatians to just be better, nor did he entering their world but without the hope of the gospel. He did both. Relationship plus hope.
And this is exactly what Jesus did; who Jesus was. He was the Word (God’s very voice) made Flesh. He was simultaneously God himself and man. He “incarnated” (“made flesh”) as one of us in order to bring us back home. On the cross he was divided from the Father so that our division (“sin”) would be paid for on his back while giving us the his Father-Unity we lost back in the garden and have been craving ever since. This is the WHY and the HOW of doing incarnational ministry. It’s not simply “because Jesus did it.” It’s because we are His and have been fully empowered by his indwelling presence to God’s representative (“ambassadors” according to 2 Cor 5:15-21) to the whole world. God is bringing people back home and using us to do it. What a privilege to not just be in his family, but be instrumental in his Kingdom while being real, raw and honest in our real world.