This January, we’ve gotten off to a fresh start. The holidays are done, we took down the decorations and turned a page. Do you put away all your decorations, or are there some that you leave up all year around?
This is the fourth of six in the Fresh Start series, and we’re using the six chapters of Paul’s letter to the Galatians as a guide.
Paul is writing to the churches in Galatia because they seem to have contracted a kind of spiritual infectious disease. Instead of experiencing faith in Jesus as the freedom life-giving liberation it can be, they are being tempted to turn it into life-sapping religious practice. Some folks have come from the home office of Christianity in Jerusalem and suggested that if they are to be authentic believers in Jesus, they should be more Jewish, like he was. Follow the rules, obey the laws. It’s a problem. Paul thinks of it as being in prison, being in slavery.
You might think that this is nothing more than interesting history, but it’s a problem today, too. Without an inner core of belief in the resurrection of Jesus and a trusting relationship with him, the rules don’t mean much. They can even be a distraction. What we do as God’s church, wherever you are, is so much more. It’s my hope that everyone listening or reading, at some point, hears God speaking to them and responds with “Yes, Lord. I’m yours. With all my faults and problems, I’m yours. Forgive me: I believe in your son Jesus.”
God then begins to live inside you and change you in ways that are hard to describe. This is God the Spirit at work. This is freedom.
Sometimes, for God to have enough room to work, you have to reach bottom, you have to have deep need. You have to be at a point of knowing in your deepest self that only God can help you. I believe that this is true for churches as well.
The freedom that comes from faith is contagious. Following rules for the sake of following rules is not contagious. I think we can admit that sometimes what we do as Christ’s Body, the Church, can be too organized. That can leave folks with the wrong impression. What we do here is dispense freedom.
For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1
It’s a good thing to have a support system for your faith in Christ. That yoke of slavery is religion for the sake of the religion without Christ at the heart of it.
In the fourth chapter of Galatians, Paul gives a little illustration of what he’s talking about.
Galatians 4:1-7. My point is this: heirs, as long as they are minors, are no better than slaves, though they are the owners of all the property; 2but they remain under guardians and trustees until the date set by the father. 3So with us; while we were minors, we were enslaved to the elemental spirits of the world. 4But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. 6And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ 7So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.
To summarize that idea: we start out enslaved, captive and contained. At some level, people need boundaries and limits – external forces making us “behave.” We kids need those rules, right? God gave laws to keep humanity under control. Left to ourselves, we can be very out of control. Don’t you agree? And even our some of laws are flawed. But God is not satisfied to leave us that way.
God sends Jesus to break us free from captivity, to pay the penalty for our disobedience. Jesus redeems us, sets us free.
When we believe, when we have faith, instead of being contained and controlled from the outside, God begins to work on the inside.
“God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts.” (Galatians 4:6)
The prophet Jeremiah saw it coming. God says,
“I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jeremiah 31:33).
In Christ, when we believe, God brings us into the family, into the household, into relationship. We were outside; now we’re inside. We are family. We are heirs. God gives us the kingdom. We are inheritors! Have you ever inherited anything? A lot of us have. And many of us have prepared ourselves to leave an inheritance.
Ralph was a typical blue collar guy who happened to be distantly related to the British monarchy. When all the royalty family was suddenly wiped out, he was next in line. He inherits the kingdom…
No, not that kind of kingdom! Ralph finds out that being king isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and huge wealth does not bring happiness. In fact, that can even be another kind of slavery.
When we give control of our lives to God, God gives us God’s kingdom, give us the keys to the house – we don’t have to wait – and it’s pretty amazing.
This kingdom is that world of faith where God lives in you and all the other believers around you. This is the new life you receive when you believe. This is God inside, helping you cope when it seems like everything is going wrong.
It was never about comfort or wealth or prosperity. It’s about relationship.
This is Abba, Father, Papa, Dad. God becoming so close, you can say that we internalize the heart of God into our own.
When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ 16it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God,17and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. Romans 8:15
Think about that for a minute! This just got deeper. When we believe, we become heirs with Christ, leading to being glorified with Christ, but on a path of suffering. Sacrifice. Hmmm. So God never promises that a life of faith will be easy.
There’s a Christian therapist who puts it this way: God gives us a “sanctified gut.” Instead of being controlled by the rules, God leads us from inside. We begin to know when our motivations are selfish or harmful. The voice of God becomes that sense of aching conviction, the discomfort that comes with not living the way God designed you to live. We begin to learn wisdom: the leading of the Spirit within and not just a “spiritual opinion.”
Rules and laws are obvious and public. But God the Spirit inside us is personal. Following the Spirit’s leading takes practice, and it’s something we do together. We work at it and do our best to honor what God wants for us – and to invite as many others into the kingdom as God gives us the opportunity to reach.
God, we are living in troubling and difficult times. We continue to pray for the president and our national leadership.
We live in a world that needs you. Free us from the belief that we are small and insignificant and have nothing to say. Free us from thinking that the problems of our community and world are too big for us to deal with or change – that we can’t possibly make a difference. We forget we are children of the most-high God.
Help us live our lives filled with you and the power of your love. Help us, each day, feel a sense of calling – that there is a ministry you give each of us – and all of us together, as we live and serve in a world full of need and injustice. Walk with us as we suffer. We know you are leading us to glory.
None of this, Lord, can we do on our own, but only through faith, and the power of your Spirit and your love flowing through us. We believe, Lord, help our unbelief. Amen.