Galatians 5:1-6 (MSG)
1 Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you.
2-3 I am emphatic about this. The moment any one of you submits to circumcision or any other rule-keeping system, at that same moment Christ’s hard-won gift of freedom is squandered. I repeat my warning: The person who accepts the ways of circumcision trades all the advantages of the free life in Christ for the obligations of the slave life of the law.
4-6 I suspect you would never intend this, but this is what happens. When you attempt to live by your own religious plans and projects, you are cut off from Christ, you fall out of grace. Meanwhile we expectantly wait for a satisfying relationship with the Spirit. For in Christ, neither our most conscientious religion nor disregard of religion amounts to anything. What matters is something far more interior: faith expressed in love.
Saturday is Independence Day, aka “The Fourth of July”! It will certainly be a different kind of July 4th this year. Many cities have decided to forego the annual parades and fireworks shows due to the COVID-19 pandemic. To quote an angry songstress from the 90’s, “Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think” that on the day we usually celebrate freedom, we have had many of our freedoms either taken away or put on hold?
For genuine Americans, freedom is a big deal. It’s written into our Declaration of Independence and our national Constitution. Many people have died in the last 244 years to win and protect the freedoms that all of us have equal opportunity to enjoy. May we, as Americans, always commemorate and celebrate that.
But what about Christian freedom? Are we as passionate about the freedom we have in Christ as we are the freedoms we enjoy as Americans? We are currently in the midst of a heated debate over whether to stand for the national anthem—a debate so heated that a statue of the man who penned the song was removed by a rowdy mob of anarchists just a couple of weeks ago. There are many folks angry about that. A viral video on YouTube this week depicts a lone female soccer player standing for the anthem while ALL her teammates took a knee. How much courage did that take?
Our blood boils at these affronts to our American freedom. We wonder, “What’s the matter with people? Has everyone just gone crazy?”
And yet, in America, it’s not just LEGAL but celebrated when a woman kills her unborn baby. It must not be a big deal to anybody because about a million babies a year get aborted (at least that’s how many get reported to the CDC). In America, it’s not just LEGAL but celebrated for two men to engage in sodomy and even get “married” if they want. Or two women if we’re being politically correct. In America, it’s not just LEGAL but celebrated if a second-grade boy decides he’d rather be a second-grade girl.
Yes, in America, we have all kinds of freedoms to do all kinds of things.
Let’s get back to Christian freedom, which I believe is the only TRUE freedom. Nothing against America, but the only source of true freedom is Jesus Christ.
The freedom Paul talks about in Galatians 5 is a bit slippery for me. Not the idea of freedom, but the depth of freedom in Christ. The depth of grace and love that flow from the throne of God into our lives providing a way for us to be with Him forever. And especially the fact that this freedom comes as a free gift that must be received—like a birthday present or Christmas gift. This freedom is founded upon the love of God—a love that really makes no sense to humans. We love people who are nice to us and do nice things for us. We love family because, well, they’re family. But God loves his enemies! While we were still his enemies, Christ died for us so that we would no longer be enemies. It’s a love that takes me as I am and asks nothing of me except that I receive the gift of Jesus of my own free will.
God’s love is manifest in the death and resurrection of Messiah Jesus. He is the only source of true freedom.
Folks, I confess that I do not yet possess that level of love and grace for others. My tendency is to see others through the lens of stereotypes and preconceptions. I tend to see myself as “better than” others, especially on the behavioral level. I tend to make love and grace conditional, even though I try hard not to. I pray that the Spirit helps me overcome myself to be more like Jesus, who forgave his tormentors and detractors.
I have been given the freedom to love and forgive because I am loved and forgiven. That freedom was paid for by the blood of Jesus through the grace of God. I pray that I will reach a point in my life where God’s love and grace flow through me to others freely and abundantly.
Enjoy your Fourth, church. But realize that American freedom cannot hold a candle to the freedom found only in the love and grace of Almighty God--a love and grace we are expected to extend to others, those of every race, creed, color, and sexual orientation. Even to those who hate America, refuse to kneel for the anthem, and throw Molotov cocktails at police officers.
Through our love and grace may these people see Jesus.
"Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:44-45).
Please pray for me as I pray for you.