anny Villegas was roofer in Texas for five years following 70-months in a Federal prison for bank robbery. He drove to Florida and went to the Kennedy Space Center Federal Credit Union and told the teller he was robbing her and that she “might as well call the police now.”
He then sat on a couch in the lobby to wait for the police. Lt. Ron White said, Villegas wanted to “rob a federal bank because he wanted to go back to a federal penitentiary”
(Asso. Press, 2007).
Last week, we ended with Paul’s confusion, “I am perplexed about you” (v. 20). Partially because these people would leave behind the grace and freedom they’d found in Christ and because he had thought they had a bond between themselves which showed him to be truthful and honest.
Now the confusion continues as he asks if they have even listened to the Law. Hearing was more important then because it was mostly an ‘oral’ culture. Songs, stories, letters, plays, teaching were all verbal and the use of written words, contracts and the like were usually meant for the few or to be read to the groups they addressed. For the Jew, to “hear the Law” is to “internalize that word, to understand it, and to obey it… terms like of ‘seeing’, ‘hearing,’ ‘understanding,’ and ‘repenting’ are used synonymously”
(Longenecker, 2015) for the process of listening to God’s Law.
A personal favorite explanation comes from Timothy George who translates this as ““Do you realize what you are getting into?” Do you really know what is involved in what you are about to do? Then listen more carefully to what the law itself says”
(George, 1994). Those who had been Gentiles and were facing pressure to be circumcised might be excused from understanding the effect of the Law but not those who had previously been Jews.
The introduction I used was about a man who could not stand to be free from Federal prison. Other stories can be told of those who can’t stand to be free from a life of abuse or addiction. There are those who can’t stand a life without pain and failure. But when read in 5:1 “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” What are we free from and what are free to?
We are free from trying to save ourselves. Our eternal future is no longer tied to keeping to a special diet, celebrating certain festivals and making a list of sacrifices to make God happy. A 20-something woman, raised in a Christian home and church assured her interview she was ‘saved’. She explained being a Christian meant asking Jesus into your heart and that you had to ask him to forgive you for “bad things, the sins you do.”
When the interview asked, “And what does God want from you?”
She was quick to answer, "He wants me to do good stuff …. You know, be nice to others and don't hang around with bad people.” The interview then summarized this exchange.
“We've transformed the holy, terrifying, magnificent, and loving God of the Bible into Santa and his elves. And instead of transmitting the gloriously liberating and life-changing truths of the gospel, we have taught our children that what God wants from them is morality. We have told them that being good (at least outwardly) is the be-all and end-all of their faith”
(Fitzpatrick and Thompson, 2011).
Thomas Merton wrote, “It is not that someone else is preventing you from living happily… Rather than admit this [and ask for God's help], you pretend that someone else is keeping you from exercising your liberty. Who is this? It is you yourself” (Merton, 1972).
Way back in 1967 I learned the difference between religion and faith when Fritz Ridenour penned a book for Regal Press called How to be a Christian without Being Religious. He pointed out that Paul, a Pharisee, “had plenty of religion… still the Law did not bring him peace. It did not put him in touch with the living God”
The world promises purpose, hope, a future and peace. But it repeatedly fails to keep these promises. We are also free from trusting these false promises that never appear. We are free from the seemingly mundane and uselessness that life can become. Did you know that the ‘treadmill’ or ‘treadwheel’ was invented in 1818 as a device to use in British prisons? The purpose was to give prisoners the task of walking upstairs for hours on end to generate a little power for mills and the like
What does this freedom mean for us? Can we possibly become like the Galatians or the bank robber who desires the certainty of the routine we run back into it?
We’ve heard it before from Paul, but we are free to receive God’s grace. We are free to be children of promise, whom, since before Abraham, God has called to be his people. We are free to be forgiven. We are freed from the curse that our sins laid on us. Our freedom binds us to others who have been set free. Freedom gives us a deep, personal relationship with God in which we are privileged to call him “Daddy”
Thus, we are free to live for Jesus and like Jesus. The question is, what does that look like? In John 8 Jesus is faced with those who want to profess they are descendants of Abraham. To them, Jesus tells them
1. His teaching is the truth and the truth will set us free.
2. Those who are free would do what Abraham did which is believe and trust God
3. Free to love him, that is to keep his commandments, to love as he loves, to give ourselves sacrificially like an offering for others.
John Stott points out, we inherit the spiritual reality of the Old Testament promises. “They are fulfilled today not in the Jewish nation, as some dispensationalists hold, nor in the British or Anglo-Saxon people, as the British Israelites teach, but in Christ and in the people of Christ who believe”. And “Secondly, we experience the grace of God, His gracious initiative to save us”
Obtaining and maintaining one’s freedom…
You may not believe this, but there are some take the freedom Christ has given and assume they are free to do whatever they want to do because, “after all, God will forgive me because of Jesus.” Such behavior is a sign that one is either not really free, or simply foolish. “Freedom in Christ does not give us the right to do as we please but the power and ability to do as we ought”
(Anders, 1999). Romans 6:1-2 says, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?”
God’s work brings about ‘sanctification’ i.e. holiness by killing, little by little our sin nature. Whereas ‘justification’ is a past event, our salvation, the holy life is an ongoing adventure. “Both of them proceed from Christ by the grace of God: now sanctification is the abolishing of sin, that is, of our natural corruption, whose place is taken by the cleanness and pureness”
(Whitlock et al., 1995).
Galatians 5:1 give us two commands concerning our maintenance of our freedom, “stand fast” and “do not again”. We do not win our acceptance by our own obedience
(Stott, 1968). That is what religion is all about, earning heaven by doing good deeds. We are to stand fast by relying on God to continue the work he has started in us, even when we face hard time and naysayers. God has broken the heavy yoke so that we may stand (Leviticus 26:13) and we are, in no way, to take that on ourselves again.
We are much better off listening to Matthew 11 when Jesus says,
“28Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Let us pray.
Asso. Press. 'Man Stages Robbery to Get Back In Prison'. Washington Post 2007. Web. 26 Aug. 2015.
Fitzpatrick, Elyse, and Jessica Thompson. Give Them Grace. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2011. Print.
George, Timothy. Galatians. Nashville, Tenn.: B & H, 1994. Print.
Lienhard, John H. 'No. 374: Prison Treadmills'. Uh.edu. n.p., 2015. Web. 26 Aug. 2015.
Longenecker, Richard N. Galatians, Volume 41. Zondervan, 2015. Print.
Merton, Thomas. New Seeds of Contemplation. New York, NY: New Directions, 1972. Print.
Ridenour, Fritz. How to be a Christian Without being Religious. Glendale, Calif.: Gospel Light Pub., 1967. Print.
Stott, John R. W. The Message of Galatians. 5th ed. London: Inter-Varsity P., 1968. Print.
Whitlock, Luder G. et al. New Geneva Study Bible. Nashville: T. Nelson, 1995. Print.
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