Saturday, October 12, 2013

Confinement vs. Conviction

Is Galatians 5 the actual most comprehensive chapter in the Bible? Because every word on the page has hit me like a wave today.

Galatians 5:1
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.

I think it's interesting that Paul felt like he needed to use the word "free" two times in this sentence in his letter to the church in Galatia. You would think it would be enough just to simply say "Christ has set us free." That's a pretty bold statement in and of itself.

But, the Galatians still were not taking God's promise at face value. Some of them were quick to believe the old religious leaders who had come back into the community to hit them with the rulebook and judge them.  So they went back to running around trying to prove themselves worthy, even though Jesus has already done all the work by going to the Cross. They were using religion as a tool to get closer to God. But, Paul says no. Not at all.

Jesus Christ set us free to live a free life, not to be bound the inconsequential rules and laws that kept us down in the first place. Christ set us free so that we would accept his gift and live a free life.

Our lives should look like a blast, really. (Speaking into my own life so much right now.) He called us to live a FREE life. You can replace that word and say He set us free to live a fun, true, authentic, glorious, light-filled, happy life. We carry His name when we accept Him into our hearts and our lives represent that name. We have access to the best kind of existence there is. In Matthew 11:28, Jesus says that if we follow him, our burden will be easy and light. That should appeal to this world, where everything looks dark sometimes. People who live of this world struggle with depression, pain, addiction, stress, worry, and doubt. Our lives should look like an invitation to them.

So, we don't walk around our neighborhood with frowns on our faces, kept down by religious practices and rules and contrived spiritual imprisonment. WE. ARE. FREE.

If you want to follow the religious rules and practices of an extremely structured environment, fine. Some people still stand up when a preacher reads from the Bible in church, out of reverence. That's cool. Some people only listen to "Christian music" (sidenote: aren’t all talents and gifts bestowed upon us by God, really having nothing to do with our own worthiness and therefore isn't any Christian that makes music technically making Christian music? Another blog, another day...)

What Paul is saying is, don’t think for a second that any of that qualifies you for anything and don't you dare try to confine other people by tempting them into a life defined by rules and religion, rather than a relationship with the Spirit. For me, I think it can be easy to get conviction confused with confinement.

Paul even goes as far as to say that if you submit to a rule-keeping system, you’re not only doing yourself a disservice, but you are actually squandering Jesus Christ's hard won gift of freedom.

Gal. 5: 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.

Um. I don't know about you, but the last thing I need is to fall out of grace. I need Jesus so much, it's ridiculous. I am incredibly selfish. Like seriously, that is my numero uno sin if that were such a thing. My mind is constantly consumed with all the ways I can serve myself. What will make me happy? How far will this get me in my career? Where should I be living, working, etc? It's really #enoughalready.

Paul addresses that, too.

Gal 5:16-18
Live freely, animated and motivated by God's Spirit. Then you won't feed the compulsions of selfishness. For there is a root of sinful self-interest in us that is at odds with a free spirit, just as the free spirit is incompatible with selfishness. These two ways of life are antithetical, so that you cannot live at times one way and at times another way according to how you feel on any given day. Why don't you choose to be led by the Spirit and so escape the erratic compulsions of a law-dominated existence?

WHAT. Yep, that's for me. Hit me where it hurts.

So, we shouldn't live by a set of made up rules. We should just live by faith and be guided by the Spirit and nothing else.  I wish someone would have sat me down and said this very thing to me the day I first met Jesus. I could have avoided a lot of wasted time trying to be good.

In the same way that it squanders the gift of the Cross to live by anything other than His grace and gift, we know it's wrong to misrepresent His name. We live free lives so that we are not controlled by heretical religion  (which is of this world) and also so that we are not controlled by the vices the world tries to offer us (which are also of this world.)

Certainly, it's possible to misinterpret Paul's letter to the Galatians to say that all things are permissible. That's not true at all and that isn't what he meant.

Gal 5: 13-15
It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don't use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love, that's how freedom grows. For everything we know about God's word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself.

While we try to avoid being tied down by the nonsense distraction that is religion, we should be equally as wary of things that would seek to divert us from our purpose.

*For instance, drinking in social environments and in moderation doesn't detract from your Christianity at all.

But, it sets a bad example to lose your self-control in a form of escapism. The best way I have ever heard it put is by my pastor who once said it this way: He was discussing a new song called "Get Faded," in which the lyrics go something like "I wake up in the morning, get faded. Go to work. Get faded." His retort was that that is a terrible way to live, because God is doing something spectacular in each of our lives and collectedly in this City and the world, and I don't want to miss a single second of that by being out of my mind.

Truthfully, I don't want to escape my life. And I don't want to distort it by prescribing to the humanistic ideals the world has put in front of me. From the outside looking in, it looks like there are just two choices. Accept religion or accept this world as it is. But, I reject them both. I choose the only honest way I know how to live, and that's to listen to the One who holds the future of the world in his hands.

I feel like every lyric in this song pretty much sums it up...

"Lord, I Need You" -Chris Tomlin 

Lord I come, I confess. Bowing here, I find my rest. Without You, I fall apart. You're the one that guides my heart. 

Lord, I need You, oh I need You. Every hour I need You. My one defense, my righteousness- Oh God, how I need You. 

Where sin runs deep, Your grace is more. Where grace is found is where You are. And where You are, Lord I am free. Holiness is Christ in me. Yes, where You are Lord I am free. Holiness is Christ in me.

So teach my soul to rise to You, when temptation comes my way. And when I cannot stand I'll fall on You. Jesus You're my hope and stay. And when I cannot stand I'll fall on You. Jesus You're my hope and stay. 

*Not an all-inclusive statement for people who struggle with addictions and self-control. I can see how it would probably best to stay away all together in that case; listening to the Spirit guiding you. I am certainly not qualified to give advice on that matter. Only God can do that.

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