Freedom! What a wonderful word that is. It is, I believe, one of the rallying cries of the gospel – freedom in Christ from sin and death. Freedom from our sinful nature. Freedom to be the people that God always intended us to be. The gospel message is the story of how Christ Jesus, through his death and resurrection, has bought our freedom.
But something that I find shocking is how often people taste freedom and then want to return to the arms of slavery. After the Exodus, it didn’t take too long for the Israelites to start grumbling about desert conditions and longing to return to Egypt – “yes, we were slaves… but…. melons!” And here in Galatians Paul is faced with Christians who, having tasted the freedom of Christ were now being led by false teachers back into the slavery of legalism.
Says Paul, it’s all or nothing. If you go back to circumcision, you’ve got to take on the whole kit and caboodle – all of the laws of Moses have to be kept. If that’s how you want to please God – then you have to keep all of the commandments. The problem being that only Jesus has ever done that. And if you think you’re up for it – what you’re really saying is that you don’t need Jesus – that you’re righteousness will be enough to please God.
Christians – those who have the Spirit – live very differently. We eagerly wait to receive by faith – trust – the righteousness that God has promised us. Being circumcised is irrelevant to this. What matters to God is our trust in him, and its being expressed in love. Salvation comes through the cross of Christ alone. Circumcision – any form of “you have to do this too in order to be saved” – might be more religious, but it’s not what the gospel preaches. The cross of Christ alone is offensive to many – but that’s how God saves us. We are set free by Christ’s cross – and given new life in his resurrection.
So – Christians are meant to live in freedom. But that doesn’t mean I can do whatever I like. Being free doesn’t allow me to do whatever my sinful nature wants. Rather, Christian freedom is freedom to serve others in love. I’m free to “love your neighbour as myself”. And, ironically, in my freedom to do that I actually end up fulfilling the law! But I fulfil the law out of my freedom, not in order to attain freedom.
Do I fulfil the law perfectly because I am free to do so? No. Thing is, although my old sinful self has died with Christ, it is still thrashing about, and will be until Jesus returns and makes me new. Until then, I have two diametrically opposed natures – my old sinful self, and CHrist in me by his Spirit. That’s the difference between Christians and non-Christians – we have the Spirit of God living within us, setting us free from our obligation to the law of Moses and directing us so that we live out of who we are in Christ Jesus.
The question is: which nature do I listen to? Do I follow the urges of my sinful nature? May I never do that – my sinful nature is horrible in the extreme. If I live for instant gratification in the here and now, the result is horrible – and eternally damnable. But if I allow the Spirit to form Christ in me, then something of his character will begin to be reflected in my thinking and speaking and doing.
But the nitty-gritty of this all: I’ve got to keep – every day of every hour – take the passions and desires of my sinful nature and nail them to Jesus’ cross. I need to choose to follow the promptings of the Spirit. I need to say “NO” to my sinful urges – and take them to the cross of Christ and leave them there. I’ve got to refuse to even contemplate them. Hard? Yes! Impossible? No – that’s one of the reasons God has given us his Spirit – so that we can say no to our old selves and live out who we will be in the new creation. I need to spend more time listening to the voice of the Spirit – spending time in prayer, spending time in bible study. Spending time with Christians. I have to be honest with God about my sinful passions and desires (he knows about them after all – as Adam and Eve found in the garden!) – and I’ve got to leave them at the one place where they have already been dealt with: the cross of Christ.
Jesus – thank you for setting me free. I often feel the lure of trying to please you by being “good enough” or “doing enough” for you. I’m sorry. Please – help me to trust you completely – to wait on the righteousness that you have promised me. Please – keep forming something of that righteousness in me right now. I know very well the battle that rages between my dead, sinful self and your Spirit. Thank you that that battle rages. Thank you that it’s not a battle I fight on my own – but that you – the Almighty God – are with me. Help me to always keep taking my sinful thoughts and desires back to the cross; please keep forming your Son in me. There’s a long way to go, Lord…. please help me to “forget what is past, and press forward to the prize that is set before me: Christ Jesus my Lord.”