Tag Archives: Galatians 5

Freedom, Indulgence, Hard Knocks, and Wisdom

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Galatians 5:13-14 (NIV)

Among most of Wendy’s and my circle of close friends we happen to be the furthest down the path of life experience. As we enjoy being grandparents for the first time and watch our adult children embarking on their own adult journeys, most of our friends are somewhere between the stages of young children taxi service and sending children off to college for the first time. Just yesterday I was speaking with my friend who is experiencing the latter.

For young people who have lived in a secure home with engaged parents, going off to college is the first opportunity to experience real freedom. No one is looking over your shoulder. No one is reminding you of what you need to do. Plus, opportunities to experience the appetites of life in all their excesses tend to present themselves in abundance.

For many of us, the years of college and young adulthood are when we learn some crucial lessons on life’s road. Chief among them is answering the simple question: “What am I going to do with my freedom?” 

I don’t know a single individual who didn’t, at some point, use freedom to engage and indulge unhealthy appetites in one way or another during these years. Perhaps there are a few true saints out there. Most parents I know, however, like to conveniently white-wash their own young adult excesses as they place all sorts of appetite controls and lofty expectations on their children.

Along the journey I’ve come to the conclusion that each one of us must learn the hard lessons of how we’re going to use our freedom. It’s part of the journey. We all need to have our own wake-up moments like the Prodigal Son finding himself up to his knees in pig slop. We all need our personally induced wake-up calls when we find ourselves saying: “My own choices led me to this awful place. I think I need to make some changes.”

In today’s chapter of his letter to the believers of Galatia, Paul is addressing this same principle. Legalism is great for creating compulsory obedience to a defined set of rules, but it does nothing for helping us learn the crucial, spiritual maturity lessons of appetite control. It’s no coincidence that Paul’s list of behaviors that mark spiritual maturity include “self-control.”

This morning I find myself praying for our own adult children and our grandchild. The truth I’ve discovered is that the lessons of managing our appetites and developing mature self-control are ongoing throughout our life journeys. So, I’m praying for them in their own respective waypoints on this life journey.

I’m also saying prayers for our friends who are in the stages of raising willful children, teenagers testing their boundaries, and young adults experiencing freedom for the first time. I’m praying wisdom for all those parental decisions about rules, consequences, clamping down, and letting go. I’m also praying for the grace and wisdom of the Prodigal’s father, who knew that his Prodigal had to learn his own crucial lessons and experience the awful places we find ourselves when we use our freedom to indulge our appetites. The father didn’t track his son down. He didn’t send a rescue party. He didn’t deny his son life’s required coursework from the school of hard-knocks. The father sat patiently on the front-porch, said his prayers, kept his eye on the road out front, and waited for a much wiser son to come home.

“I Do Not Think That Means What You Think It Means”

 

You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.
Galatians 5:4 (NIV)

I’ve always been a movie lover. There are movies that I can watch over and over and over again and each time I do I seem to catch little things I’d never seen or heard before.  Lines from the film seem to enter conversation. For Wendy and me, one of those movies is Princess Bride. A favorite line of our is when Inigo Montoya tells Vizzini, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.’

Among the community of Jesus’ followers the phrase “fallen from grace” is often used to refer to those who at one time were followers, but seemed to leave the path of faith to follow after sinful appetites. Other believers will say that this person has “fallen from grace.” In fact, these are the only circumstances in which I hear this phrase used. To quote Inigo Montoya, “You keep using those words. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Paul does not use “fallen from grace” to describe those who have left the faith to pursue sinful appetites! He uses the phrase to describe those who have left the path of simple faith and have pursued legalistic religiosity. In Galatia, those whom Paul described who had “fallen from grace” were those who were telling non-Jewish believers that they had to follow all the Jewish legal, religious rules.

This is a huge distinction. Walking the journey of faith is a balancing act from which you can stumble and fall in either way. Certainly you can stumble and pursue unhealthy appetites. That’s why Paul says a a few lines later: “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.” But you can also stumble and “fall from grace” by pursuing a path of rigid, religious rules in which you judge a person’s faith by how they measure up to your religious yard stick.

To quote another famous movie line that creeps into my conversation on a regular basis: “Daniel-san. Must learn balance.

To Religious Rule Keepers: Go Castrate Yourselves

I just wish that those troublemakers who want to mutilate you by circumcision would mutilate themselves. Galatians 5:12 (NLT)

What we read in God’s Message can easily be confusing without the historical context. Paul’s letter to the Jesus followers in Galatia is a great example.

At the time Paul was writing his letter, the rite of circumcision in which the foreskin of the male penis is cut off and removed had been part of the Jewish religion for over a thousand years. The tradition dated back to the days of Abraham in the book of Genesis. In the early days of Christianity there was a huge debate raging whether you could be a follower of Jesus without keeping the labyrinth of Jewish laws, rules and regulations such as circumcision. Because Jesus  and all of the disciples had been Jews, many were teaching that following Jesus required converting to Judaism with all of its requisites, including circumcision.

Paul had gone to Galatia and taught the message of Jesus which is actually very simple: turn away from your wrong doing, believe in Jesus and invite Him into your heart and life. Then, follow Jesus teachings and love others. Many in Galatia believed and there was a growing group of Jesus followers in the town. Paul left to go to other cities and in his absence some men came to town claiming to be of greater authority than Paul. They started telling all the Jesus followers that they were required to convert fully to Judaism. All the men who believed in Jesus would have to have the foreskins of their penises cut off.

Paul was righteously ticked off. In fact, the English translators who translated what we read from the original Greek language in which Paul wrote are always  so careful with the verse above. In the original Greek, what Paul is really saying is “I wish those who are teaching that you have to be circumcised would go all out. They shouldn’t stop with the foreskin of the penis, they should go ahead and castrate themselves.”

We can scarcely imagine what huge theological issues the early church grappled with as those who followed Jesus differentiated themselves from the Jewish traditions from which they emerged. The entire letter Paul writes to the Jesus followers in Galatia is about this one major theme. Jewish tradition was about zealously keeping all the rules of the law of Moses. It was a system built on rules, rites and sacrifice. Paul is telling them to forget the letter of the law and focus on the Spirit of the law: love God, love others.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. We no longer have these same theological conflicts, but the heart of the conflict remains. People still like to make faith in Jesus about keeping rules and regulations so as to appear righteous before others. Just last night I had a conversation with my daughter who has been recently chastised by someone for not toeing the line of their religious rules. My advice to her came right from Paul’s letter: Follow Jesus and choose love.

I didn’t add “let the religious rule police go castrate themselves”….but I thought it. Like Paul, I felt a little ticked.