We humans like to fit sin into a box –a box that makes sense to us, a box that fits our agendas, our feelings, or our own sense of right and wrong. It’s hard for us to comprehend what exactly God’s holiness entails and how it should impact our view of ourselves…and of sin and salvation.
Recently, I began attending a women’s Bible study group with the sole purpose of diving more into the Word of God, challenging my “Bible knowledge,” and developing relationships with more mature women. Little did I know that my menial motivations would be surpassed by the Lord’s grand desire to transform me and provide for me exactly the truth I needed for this time in my life. While His way in this is nothi ng out of the ordinary for Him and is only a small sample of His plan and work, I stand amazed that it offers a picture of how He teaches and prepares us for just what we need in His most perfect, beautiful timing.
The focus of our Bible study this semester was the book of Galatians. Before we began, I knew it was one of Paul’s letters and I could reference a few notes I had previously made in the margins of my Bible there. But the depth of its truths and its meaningful applications to my life boggled my mind –and I know we have yet only scratched the surface.
I am sure we each discovered direct significance very specific to our lives.
What I found was freedom.
Overall a people-pleaser and rule-follower while growing up, I have many times made decisions on what people in my life would think of me. My view of myself and even of others was determined by what I or others determined acceptable. Of course, we are to embrace and consider wisdom and advice that is shared with us, though often too freely. But our utmost desire should be to seek the wisdom of the Lord, yearn for a closer walk with Him, and make Him known to others more and more, finding peace, confidence, and security in the knowledge that He has already made us approved and worthy before God in Jesus’ name. Nothing else should matter. Anything else is only temporary with no lasting significance. Anything else only belongs to this world. Anything else leads to slavery and a continual cycle of sin.
As a believer in Jesus Christ, I am not called to any form of bondage. Galatians makes this concept very clear and defined. “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1). I think most of us would agree that sin places us into slavery and that once saved, we should run from the things that enslave us. Why would we mock Christ and His sacrifice on the cross by only returning to bonds? But what I had to realize is that there are many forms of possible slavery for the Christian. In my achievement-driven mind, the only form of slavery a Christian could be vulnerable to fall to is what I considered the “real sins,” like some of those mentioned in Galatians 5:19-21: sexual immorality, sorcery, jealousy, to name a few. These were obvious. These were at times pointed out by society and definitely always by churches.
But I was in bondage to another slavery Paul also mentions in Galatians 5. In fact, it is the first that he mentions in this chapter: having a spirit of legalism. The entire book of Galatians revolves around this specific church’s struggle with the false teachers who were pushing for the following of certain rules in order to prove, justify, or gratify salvation. One’s identity was in standards, laws, and fitting in with a certain status quo determined by tradition. The Galatians’ specific struggle was with circumcision. Of course, in our culture, this topic is no longer an issue! However, there are many others today, and I am sure you have already begun to fill in the blank very quickly. These are the ones that divide us, that sever our churches, that tear apart families, that push away unbelievers, and most importantly that rob us from the true Gospel and a flourishing relationship with Christ.
What I have begun to learn is that it is just as sinful to adopt any form of legalism as it is to remain in those sins we typically think of. The spirit of legalism is not just choosing to adopt rules because one believes it will make them a better Christian, though we are so guilty of this; it also involves imposing personal standards on other people, judging them if they do not, afraid to analyze the issue Biblically and in prayer. The spirit of legalism enslaves because it imposes unimportant limitations in decision-making and in the leading of the Holy Spirit, and blinds us to recognizing some gray areas. “For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love” (Gal. 5:6).
Am I telling you to rid your life of all convictions and standards? No! Of course not! “Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh” (Gal. 5:13). We are to run from sin! I have come to believe, however, that we should be careful on how we set our standards: rather than through fear of popular word or sets of tradition, we should carefully determine them by the leading of the Spirit and the reading of His unfailing Word: “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16). Through His earthly ministry, Jesus respected tradition but did not live limited by it. The same went for those who followed Him. In fact, there are countless examples throughout the Gospels! When we set our standards, we should seek our hearts for our motives: are we simply following tradition or hoping to make ourselves feel or look better or accepted…or out of Spirit-filled love?
We have already been accepted by GOD if we have believed in Jesus Christ and begun a relationship with Him. When God looks at us, He sees Christ –no blame, shame, or any tint of sin: just holiness. Once we are saved, we should desire more and more to experience the transformation of the Holy Spirit; but there is absolutely nothing we can do to make God love or accept us more or less. It is done. It is finished. The struggle is gone. And so should our slavery, in whatever shape or form it can still entrap us while still in this world. “But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?” (Gal. 4:9)
So be free. Allow yourself to be free. Jesus has already made you so.