Spiritual Freedom and Religious Captivity: thoughts from Galatians 5

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It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery….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. (Galatians 5:1, 13)

Here we find a core lie the Galatians had bought into: that we can earn our way to God through religious activity or add something to God’s grace by doing the right actions.

Paul knows that this is a dead end. In fact, he dramatically says this in Galatians 5:4, “You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ” (5:4). This has been a theme of the letter, and Paul is telling them that this lie will lead them off track. You cannot earn your way to God and you cannot add to the sufficiency of Christ. So, Paul writes at the beginning of this section of the letter: “Do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (5:1).

On August 23, 1973, Jan Erik Olsson, attempted to hold up a bank in Stockholm, Sweden. When the police showed up, Olsson took four people as hostages and a stand-off with police followed, lasting six days. At one point during the standoff, Olsson called Sweden’s Prime Minister to say that he would kill the hostages. He put one of the hostages on the phone and she said to the prime minister, “I am very disappointed in you…I think you are sitting here playing with lives.” Despite Olsson’s threats, many of the hostages decided they felt safer with the bad guy than with the police. Some hostages actually resisted rescue attempts and later refused to testify against their captor. Now, whenever you hear news of a hostage who identifies more with their captors than their rescuers that condition is referred to as the Stockholm Syndrome. Many years afterwards, one of the hostages said, “It’s some kind of a context you get into when all your values, the morals you have, change in some way.”

Sometimes this happens to us as we consider life in Jesus Christ. We get so confused about what is freedom and what is captivity that we live in a lie. We begin to think, “It cannot be so simple that God takes upon Himself all the cost. I must do something to earn His grace. I must add something to the work of Christ.” But this is just a spiritual version of the Stockholm syndrome.

We have been set free at great cost, and we do not need to return to captivity to find life. Instead, we must face into this core lie if we are going to live the free life that God intends through Jesus Christ.

Activated by the Holy Spirit

This past weekend at Eastbrook Church, we begin a new five-week series called “Roots.” This series is an opportunity for us at Eastbrook as we celebrate 40 years as a church to look back at what have been the roots of our church. It also offers us the chance to look forward to how we can continue living from these roots as we move forward for years to come.

This weekend we looked at how the Holy Spirit activates the church. Since our inception, we have said that we wanted to be a church that could only be explained by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is really supposed to be true of any local church, and was definitely true of the early church in Jerusalem.

You can watch my message from this past weekend and follow along with the message outline below. You can also engage with the entire series here or download the Eastbrook mobile app for even more opportunities for involvement.

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Freedom with God: the radiant seal of spontaneity in virtuous living

Josef Pieper writes about strenuous effort versus free spontaneity in living the virtuous life with God:

The strain of self-mastery, which for us countrymen of Kant is inseparable from any concept of upbringing and moderation and is generally tied to and fused with the concept of virtue, is an accompanying phenomenon only of less perfect and beginner stages, whereas authentic, perfected virtue, by dint of the very definition of the concept, bears the happily radiant seal of spontaneity, of freedom from constraint and of self-evident inclination. (From A Brief Reader on the Virtues of the Human Heart, p. 10)

I love the way Pieper highlights the difference between immature and mature virtue. The effort-driven, straining of self-mastery is a reflection of beginning in virtue. The movement toward maturity is marked by an increasing spontaneity of virtuous action.

The Apostle Paul’s words ring in my mind here: “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. . . . If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:15, 26 ESV). As we increasingly walk by the Spirit and keep in step with the Spirit, like someone learning a dance, we become increasingly overcome by the rhythms and patterns and less conscious of the effort it takes to move our feet to the rhythms of the dance.

Self-conscious spiritual effort feels tense and difficult to watch, yet it is the necessary first steps of growing with God, sensing His Spirit’s work in us, and learning the patterns of life with God. But it is the spontaneous living with God that brings out the sweetest rhythms of grace, overflowing into the most beautiful dance of life in step with God’s calling for holy living.

I Am Filled with God’s Power

In our current series at Eastbrook Church, “Who Am I?“, we are exploring biblical answers to questions about our identity as human beings. This past weekend I concluded the series by looking at how the Holy Spirit anchors our identity in God, connects us to a broader family, and sends us out with a new sense of mission.

You can view the message video and an expanded sermon outline below. You can follow the entire series at our web-site, through the Eastbrook app, or through our audio podcast.

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Self-Control, anyone?

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My crazy notes for last week’s message.

With all the hullabaloo in the news these days about failures on the right and on the left, abuse of power, and the angst over unacknowledged sexual abuse, it was ironic that last Thursday I spent time with young adults at Kaleo talking about self-control. I hate to say it’s not surprising to me that not only are these painfully abusive things present in people’s lives, but that we do not know either what to do with it or how to apparently prevent it. It should not surprise us when we have heavily criticized any standards of character in hopes of finding ourselves through vain self-fulfillment fantasies. These two things go hand in hand.

Jesus was not being ‘spiritual’ in an esoteric way when he said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). He was revealing the practical truth that the way we truly become ‘ourselves’ is not through rampant, visceral, unbounded self-centered desire but through turning from ourselves to a source of greater guidance; in this instance, Jesus as our Master Teacher and Lord.

When we read in 2 Peter 1 that God has given us “everything we need for a godly life” (2 Peter 1:3) it comes to us only “through our knowledge of him” – that is, Jesus – and God’s “great and precious promises,” not through our self-will. Such a move toward God and from ourselves is what saves us from “the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (1:4). On the one hand as humans we tend to get worried about prudish morality here, but on the other hand we are disgusted by the abusive immorality so prevalent. Peter reminds us there is no happy medium here, there are only those equipped with God’s power to live a different sort of life and those that are left to live from their own power, which struggles gasp air above the sinking waters of sin’s corruption. Read More »