Tag Archives: Galatians 4

The Boulevard and the Gate

So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.
Galatians 4:7 (NIV)

In the early stages of my spiritual journey I wandered down the path of legalism. I was never particularly comfortable with it’s straight-and-narrow streets and the authoritarian, self-appointed traffic cops on every block wearing their spit-polished Junior Holy Spirit badges. Nevertheless, I came to an understanding of why so many people find their way to that huge boulevard.

There’s a certain ease to the path of legalism. It requires little in the way of thought, meditation, grace, wisdom, or knowledge. Everything is prescribed for you in black-and-white terms and simple rules of obedience. There’s strict accountability to keep you on the straight-and-narrow. Your fellow wayfarers will, of course, watch you like a hawk, but then there are the self-appointed traffic cops to watch your every move, remind you of the rules, and threaten you with any number of heinous punishments (i.e. alienation, condemnation, damnation) should you stray from their prescribed path.

Along that stretch of the journey I met a number of individuals who had been walking the path of legalism for many years. They had given themselves over. So comfortable had they become with their enslavement to the rules that the simplest notion of grace or freedom became a fright. They reminded me of the Hebrews in the wilderness begging to return to slavery in Egypt. “At least we knew the rules. Life was so much easier to understand. It wasn’t so hard or so complicated.”

In Paul’s letter to the believers in Galatia, he finds them in a similar spot. Having received the Message of Jesus by faith when Paul was with them, they are now being told by some self-appointed traffic cops from the path of Legalism to get themselves back on the straight-and-narrow. These Officers of Legalism are demanding obedience to their list of religious rules.

In his letter Paul calls on a powerful word picture. He argues that Jesus came to make us children of God and co-heirs with Christ. We are, therefore, no longer slaves to be herded down the path of legalism constantly threatened with alienation, condemnation and damnation should we fail to march lock-step in accordance with the self-appointed traffic cops.

Paul argues that we are free to walk down a very different path as heirs of grace freely given, of forgiveness poured out in excess, of extravagant acceptance, and of unalterable love. Why, Paul asks, would you ever want to go back to Legalism Boulevard?

Along my journey I’ve observed that some people find the path of legalism to be easier than the path of love. Having walked that Legalism Boulevard for a block or two, a piece of me gets why people spend their entire lives on its pristine concrete between its high curbs. I found obedience to a set of well defined rules less painful than dying to myself. I found that condemning rule breakers was easier (and even felt self-righteously satisfying) than forgiving them as I have been forgiven. And, I found that following the straight-and-narrow of Legalism Boulevard was guaranteed not to twist, turn, or lead me to uncomfortable neighborhoods where people look different than me, act different than me, think differently than me, or speak differently than me. There’s a comfort in that.

In the quiet this morning I’m reminded that Jesus said that the path of Life lies behind a narrow gate that’s not particularly well-marked. It’s narrow and not necessarily easy to make out because, like Frost’s poem, it’s less traveled than Legalism Boulevard. But those who ask directions will find their way there. Those who seek it out will find their way there. Those who knock on the narrow gate will find it open to them.

I’ve found it a messy and slippery path with some steep inclines and deep valleys. There have been lonely stretches where faith was required. There were some stretches I shared with companions that required humility, trust, forgiveness, teamwork, and grace to get through some of the terrain. I’ve also found myself in some foreign places that forced me to get past my fears. It hasn’t always been easy, but the further I travel on the path the more Life I’ve experienced.

I’ve never regretted leaving Legalism Boulevard. In fact, I’d encourage anyone who’s walking lock-step down that street to make their way down the alley. Ask about a narrow gate. Seek it out. You’ll be glad you did.

Just don’t let the Traffic Cops see you ūüėČ

A Son, Not a Servant

But when the set time had fully come,¬†God sent his Son,¬†born of a woman,¬†born under the law,¬†to redeem¬†those under the law, that we might receive adoption¬†to sonship.¬†Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son¬†into our hearts,¬†the Spirit who calls out,¬†‚ÄúAbba,¬†Father.‚Ä̬†So you are no longer a slave, but God‚Äôs child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.
Galatians 4:4-7 (NIV)

I was blessed to grow up in a strong, nuclear family. The whole concept of adoption was fairly foreign to me. It was through a college roommate that I was first exposed to the realities of adoption. Married to Wendy, I have gained a greater understanding and respect for those families who have walked the path of adoption.

Wendy was adopted, twice. Her family includes five adopted siblings when you count her father adopting her. Family pictures with Wendy’s family are awesome. It’s a motley crew, to be sure. It has been great for me to be a part of their family. It has opened up for me a whole new area of understanding.

In today’s chapter, Paul uses the metaphor of adoption to discuss the spiritual relationship we have with God. Jesus established the metaphor after His resurrection. Before His death He referred to the disciples as “friends,” but when the ladies met the risen Christ Jesus told them, “go and tell my brothers that I am ascending to our Father.” The implication was clear, when we follow Jesus and receive Him into our hearts we are spiritually adopted as a child of God. We become co-heirs with Jesus.

An adopted child is not a servant. An adopted child is not “less than” his or her siblings. ¬†An adopted child does not continually earn his or her membership in the family. And still, many of us who follow Jesus act as if we are in the employ of God rather than the fully adopted children of God. We work, we strain, we worry about our performance review. That’s not love, that’s indentured servitude.

Today, I’m thankful for my adoption into God’s family. It’s high time I stopped clinging to the idea that I’m in God’s employ and started embracing the reality that I am God’s heir.

A Teacher’s Love

 

GDR "village teacher" (a teacher tea...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Oh, my dear children! I feel as if I’m going through labor pains for you again, and they will continue until Christ is fully developed in your lives.. Galatians 4:7 (NLT)

Several¬†years ago my mother was greeting at church and a woman asked her if she was Tom Vander Well’s mother. “I am,” my mother answered. The woman told my mother that she¬†had been¬†my first grade teacher and she wanted my mother to say hello to me. I was blown away to know that Mrs. Avery would remember me after all those years. I loved her. She changed my life by giving me a love for school and for learning. I made a point of visiting her a few weeks later to tell her that and to thank her. Sitting in her living room, she pulled out my old class photo and began naming each student and talking about each one as if we were the previous year’s class.¬†When she¬†told me that she prayed for each of her students, I wasn’t surprised.

I’ve been teaching a class this fall on creativity. It’s been¬†several years¬†since I’ve taught, and I’ve been¬†amazed¬†to remember¬†how intensely I feel for those in my class. In my morning quiet times I find myself thinking of¬†each one, naming them individually¬†and praying for them. During the week I feel concern. I¬†wonder how their week is going and what God is doing in their lives through the assignments and material.

I identified with Paul when in today’s chapter he described his feelings of responsibility for those he taught in Galatia as labor pains. On one hand it seems a bit of an odd metaphor because, face it, neither Paul nor I¬†can really understand true labor pains. I think Paul used the metaphor because as a teacher you realize that something is being birthed in your students. There are new thoughts, new perceptions, and there is new life emerging when God’s Spirit is at work. And that is the key. God¬†and the students are¬†doing that hard work. I’m just a facilitator and conduit. Nevertheless, when¬†I’m involved in the facilitation of that process, I experience a love and commitment to those in my charge.