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.
Are you an introvert or extrovert? Do you get fueled by being with others or by being by yourself? Do others drain you or get you charged up?
As I’m sure you know, extroverts get their energy and heart-fuel from being around other people while introverts get their’s from being by themselves and “inside” their own heads. But don’t be quick to categorize others or yourself. Their are very social introverts (who need to get into a sensory depravation chamber after the party) and very quiet extroverts (who need to go to a loud and crowded restaurant after studying all afternoon).
Neither of these are right or wrong (though I bet most of us feel like our “-vert” is the best). Also, I don’t think that their are any pure introverts or extroverts. I lean heavily toward extroversion, but, after being married to an introvert, I have grown to deeply value my alone quiet time (as long as I can go hang out with a bunch of dudes afterwards).
As you look under the hood of these -verts, we get a chance to ask ourselves how and where we get our fuel. But the scary wrench in this engine is that both of these -verts are about me and my kingdom. What makes ME feel energized? What are MY preferences. There’s nothing wrong with our God-given tendencies toward inside/outside. But there is a greater heart-fuel, a greater hope, a greater power, a greater inner-peace that has a vertical power-line.
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.
Jesus himself, the Gospel in flesh, is the source of our true nourishment. Not being with others or being by ourselves (though those are important to know). But if we just focus on the E/I, we get stuck in everything being about ME. So my challenge to us all (especially myself) is to soak in the presence of Jesus…me in him and him in me. In my Gospel-o-version I can be all alone, but be fully with him; and be in a massive loud crowd while also being alone with Jesus. So regardless of how my relational circumstances, Jesus’ death has torn the curtain temple in two, unleashing the presence of God to swarm and surround me, giving me heart-fuel that can never be taken away.
Does God care? Really care?
In Mark 9 we get a powerful and liberating story about a dad in dire desperation. His son had been berated by the demonic his whole life, throwing him into epileptic seizures. He tried to get the disciples to heal the boy, but they couldn’t. So in a panic, he broke through a crowd to beg Jesus for help….
And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 22 And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”
23 And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.”
24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”
This dad asks for two things:
1) Have compassion. It isn’t enough for God to be powerful, we need to know that he deeply cares for us. Not just generally for the “world” but for me. For my problems. For my hurts. For my fears amidst my faithlessness.
2) Help. It also isn’t enough for Jesus “just” to care. He has to be able to do something about it. There’s plenty of folks in my life that care about my problems, but don’t have the power to truly and practically do anything about them.
So I need both. A God who Cares and a God who Helps. And both of these desperate needs became incarnate and displayed in the person of Jesus. Because God has a perfect Fatherly compassion (a deep, gut-level ache for us), he denied himself and sent his Son. He put us over himself; our needs over his position; our life over his. And intermingled with his love is the ultimate powerful help. First for our very souls and relationships (foremost our relationship with Him). But secondly for our lives this side of heaven. Jesus didn’t just tell them to suck it up and focus on heaven. He met them in their mess and healed the son by driving out the darkness that oppressed him.
And ultimately that’s exactly what the cross is about. The Father perfectly drove out our darkness by absorbing it and “being thrown down” like the boy…only to the point of death, so that death and the demonic will no longer have control over us. Yes, we will be die. And yes, we will be influenced by the demonic. But all believers have the Holy Spirit inside of us, replacing any other spirit that wants to get in. And this indwelling Spirit doesn’t cast us down but lifts us up; doesn’t try to destroy but successfully resurrects, which is the word used of what Jesus did to the boy.