‘For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.’ ~Galatians 5:1
The Word of God is chock full of anti-legalistic language. Pharisaism is absolutely wicked according to everything we read from the Gospels on through the pastoral letters and everywhere in between. I wish so badly that the Church corporately would grasp hold of this truth. It seems so obvious, and yet legalistic ideology can be incredibly deceitful. It can feel so right, and seem to make logical sense. You’d be hard-pressed to find somebody in this world who didn’t think that if they lived according to the rules of morality and general good behavior, their standing with God would be a positive one.
Within Christianity, there is a devastatingly rampant movement that’s been happening since the foundation of the Church, which teaches that yes, Christ has bought our salvation, but it’s up to us to act a certain way in order to have good standing with the Almighty. It’s really quite preposterous, and yet it feels almost right. It is human nature to want to earn, and be better than, and get by on our own strength.
And so you see many many divisions in the Church.
There are those who believe that unless you read your Bible every day, God is angry with you. There are those who teach that if you struggle with a particular sin, you’re lesser and deserve to be ostracized for not having your act together. There are those who say that unless you read this particular Bible translation and go to church on Sundays and don’t have tattoos and don’t do this and do that, you won’t be in good standing with God.
Spoiler alert: nothing you do will ever earn favor from God. The thief who hung next to Christ on the cross and believed in Him with his dying breath had exactly as much of God’s favor as the most devoted, loving, life-long Christian saint you could ever hope to meet. There’s a common ingredient amongst believers that gives them this position before God: the redemptive blood of Christ.
Washed is washed. Bought is bought.
You can’t clean something that’s been made completely pure, you can’t pay more for something that’s already been bought. So it is with our souls. ‘Lest any man should boast….’ It is not our works or abilities or piety that get us into paradise. It’s Christ alone.
So as Paul addresses the Galatians, he is saying ‘forget the law of the old covenant! Forget the bondage of following every rule perfectly in fear to secure your standing with the Holy One! It’s FINISHED.’ That’s what Christ said, isn’t it? ‘It is finished.’ That means that the requirement of the law over our lives was completely paid up when Christ died and rose again.
So no, you are not more righteous because you do something better, or sin less, or haven’t had to struggle with something you’ve seen others struggle with. You’re not mighty, you’re not able to redeem yourself. If this world is a prison, you don’t get out on good behavior. Your chains have been loosed REGARDLESS of your behavior. All you must do is accept the freedom offered you. So do not think for a moment that you ever could or ever would need to earn proper standing with God. You already have it, and no amount of piety will ever increase that, because He loves you perfectly as you are. He sees you through the rose-hue of the blood of His Lamb.
We are free.
So….sin all you want? No! That is equally wrong. Christ has paid for our escape from our evil nature. Sin binds us just as easily as legalism. Both are wrong. We move away from sin in repentance, and we don’t let failure keep us from pursuing Christ. He is holding our hands regardless of our shortcomings, and He wants to grow us out of our carnality. It’s a process called sanctification, and it’s lifelong.
We will never be completely sin-free until we are face-to-face with Jesus. Until then, we press on and cast every hindrance aside. The Bible literally says there will be hindrances and stumbling blocks. That’s not bad, that’s life. We trip, Christ picks us up.
For example, I’ve got a little son. He’s learning to stand up. He tries, he does well, he falls over. I’m never disappointed in him because he can’t stand on his own, because that would be preposterous. He’s nine months old. I approach him with the understanding that he needs me, and I’m not ashamed that he can’t walk on his own. It’s the same with God looking at us. We are his children, and as high as our opinions of ourselves may be, the bottom line is we’re a bunch of drooling toddlers who need a loving Father to help us walk and stand up, because there are guaranteed moments in which we simply fall down. We are not strong without Him. And let me say, life becomes MUCH easier when you realize that God is not disappointed in you for falling. He is there to pick you up every time.
Hallelujah and amen!
But there is one thing more I want to point out in this discussion, the whole point of this perhaps verbose discourse on freedom. It is a wonderful thing to walk in the freedom that Christ has given us. The Word is able to guide us and give us definite ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers on certain matters. For example, the Bible clearly states that drunkenness is a sin. It clearly states that violent anger is wrong. On the flip side, some things in the Word do not have a definite answer, things that the Lord leads us in individually through the conviction of the Holy Spirit.
I want to talk about these things a bit. Some people struggle with certain things that others feel absolute freedom in, and vice versa. One person may enjoy a nice glass of wine with dinner, another may feel very strongly that to drink alcohol is a sin. Or perhaps somebody has a tattoo or twenty, and feels freedom before the Lord to do this, while another may feel that that is wrong. Perhaps someone enjoys listening to some blues music; you will always find another who finds secular music to be wrong.
The bottom line in all this is that these are not things clearly given a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in the Word. What we do find are guidelines. Drunkenness is decried, but alcohol in moderation is not, and so on. So it is imperative that we do not force what the Lord has convicted us personally with on other people. That’s usually how legalism starts. ‘Oh you shouldn’t be doing that!’ We mustn’t ever think that our personal convictions are Scripture. These are things that we work out with the Lord. As Paul says in Romans 14, ‘Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.’
AND NOW, THE POINT OF ALL THIS.
What terrifies me is not the believer who tries to establish certain things as sin that aren’t sin, just because he feels a personal conviction about them. What terrifies me is the believer who flaunts his freedom, who clings to his rights in Christ and begins to be identified by said rights instead of by Christ.
My contention is this: that the same freedom that Christ gives us from the law is the same freedom Christ gives us to let go of our rights for the sake of another. We are free not only to enjoy the rights we have in Christ, but to let them go. The Word teaches that it is incredibly wicked to cause another to stumble. How tragic then that so many of us, who feel freedom to enjoy certain things, value that enjoyment over the well-being of others.
For example, the Apostle Paul was a beast of a man. You know that guy had to love a good steak. However, especially at that time there was an issue. Much of the meat bought and sold had been sacrificed to idols, and some believers found this to be wrong. Paul himself had no issue with it, saying ‘nothing is unclean in the Lord Jesus, but for the one who think it is unclean, it is unclean.’ Paul would rather never eat meat again than cause a brother to stumble because of his own freedom in Christ. ‘By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died.’ To paraphrase, ‘By what you do, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died.’
It is time to begin laying down our rights for the ones for whom Christ died. I know this seems so basic and so obvious, but please please please consider these things. I pray the Lord gives us grace to understand this concept: that it isn’t our own personal rights and freedoms that should take precedence…it is the well-being of our brothers and sisters.
We must consider that we are not only free to do certain things, but we are equally free to not do certain things.
Life is so much more than enjoying your rights. Let us take an example from the One who gave up every right He had for the sake of His brothers and sisters.