Following Jesus can sometimes be the easiest thing in the world for us to do because it brings us an incredible amount of joy and peace. Its during these times that we seem to understand what Jesus was referring to when He said, My yoke is easy and My burden light. But other times just trying to be like Jesus can seem to be impossible and bring us much frustration. Its during these times that we often hear these words from our Lord, Be perfect, even as your Heavenly Father is perfect. Jesus never told us that following Him would be easy (trust me Ive looked!), but how we view the Christian life can largely affect the amount of joy or frustration we experience while trying to walk like Jesus. Doing something because we have to gives us a completely different attitude than the attitude we get from doing something because we are free to. As we look at the Word together well discover that Christ came to bring freedom and love, not slavery and duty.
Lets begin with Galatians 5:1. Perhaps weve read this verse or have at least heard it before. But have we ever really stopped to consider what Paul is saying here? At first it seems redundant, almost a pointless thing to say, but Paul knew what he was writing and knew the incredible benefit that it would be if we really understand the freedom we have. Before we focus any more on our freedom, lets look at what we were set free from.
Set free from what?
Jesus knew that sin itself was slavery, and that if we sinned even once we would be slaves to it. Sin entered the world when Adam and Eve chose to sin way back in Genesis 3, and as a result we have all been given a sin nature. From that moment humanity was without hope of being free from sin and having relationship with God. Then Gods incredible plan of redemption came into play and Jesus came to earth. His main mission and purpose was to bring us back into relationship with the Father and set us free from our slavery to sin (Lk 4:18).
So what is the issue?
If weve surrendered to Jesus and have been set free from the chains of sin that formerly held us captive, what do we have to be concerned with regarding freedom? Isnt it a done deal? The issue is the temptation to re-enslave ourselves. We are probably aware of and have experienced the fact that even after Jesus sets us free from the bondage of slavery we can slip back into the sin that once controlled our lives and so easily entangles us (Heb 12:1). Though that is a constant reality that we must be aware of, today the Lord would have us look at the other way we can re-enslave ourselves: through religion and rules.
Rules arent by nature bad. There is a danger with rules however. The danger comes when we rely on them for life and righteousness because they cant give us either one. Lets think about the Pharisees. They were without a doubt Jesus greatest human opposition. The Pharisees became Jesus greatest enemies because they relied on following rules to bring them life.
Lets look at Galatians together
Pauls main message to them is this: if we rely on the law and our outward actions to bring us righteousness, then Christs death was pointless (Gal 2:21). Though the law isnt the answer to salvation, it isnt worthless. Paul explains the point of the Law is to show us our sin and to lead us to Christ (Gal 3:19:24-26).
Paul builds his case for justification by faith and not by the Law for four chapters and then he says something that the Holy Spirit wants us to really get a hold of. Lets go back and look again at Galatians 5:1.
Again that sounds redundant, I mean of course those who are set free have freedom, but Paul knows how we as human beings operate. We like predictability. We like order. We like formulas. We like knowing the boundaries so that we can fully explore without going out of bounds. Most important of all, Paul knows the temptation to go back to slavery.
How do we know if were living in chains?
1) We do Christian things, but ultimately were not sure why we do them. We read our Bibles, pray, go to church, seek serving opportunities, etc. because we feel we have to, not because we want to.
2) We feel guilty when we dont do those things. Different than feeling remorse or conviction.
3) We feel like were going through the motions for a God we dont really know or havent really met with in a long time.
but not our own
Paul is not saying (and neither am I) that we should stop instructing people about what is right and wrong, nor is he presenting a God that doesnt care what we do with our freedom. When Jesus sets us free from slavery, we are indeed free (Jn 8:36), but that doesnt mean we get to freely sin (if you remember, Paul explains that in Romans 6). It also does not give us total freedom to live our lives however we want. On the contrary, Paul urges us in Romans 12:1 to offer ourselves as living sacrifices to Him. Not because we have to, but in view of His mercy.
Keys to living in freedom
1) Seek relationship with God. Jesus died so that we could enter into a deep relationship with Him. God is not a machine, Hes a person.
2) Act with purpose. Dont do the right things for Jesus because you have to. Ask yourself, why you are doing the Christian things that you do? Out of love or out of obligation?
3) Be overwhelmed by Gods grace, mercy and love. When we stop to realize who God really is and how much He loves us, our reaction isnt guilt or shame, but thankfulness, love, and sacrifice.
4) Approach church, worship, prayer, the Word, fellowship with the intent of knowing God better.
Jesus did not come to replace our chains with more chains. We dont lose our free will when we choose to follow Him. We are, however, urged to lay aside our wills in exchange for His, not because Hes a mean God that simply wants to control us, but because He knows what is best for us. When we choose to follow Jesus we are presented with a life full of freedom, but we must choose to live it. Its up to us to refuse to become re-enslaved by the Law, by rules, and by sin. Jesus came to bring love and freedom, lets not trade those precious gifts in for duty and slavery.