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.

Jesus’ Harsh Words: The Grace of Rebuke

9c6910d2f7ce2a11ce06b1cea8dd5477In Luke 11, Jesus offers a series of rebukes to the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law. These leaders not only had the Word of God but held authority for the Word of God in the lives of others. This should stop us in our tracks as pastors, ministry leaders, elders, or anyone who has some role of authority in the lives of others.

There are certain things about us – things we do and things inside of us – that are distasteful to Jesus. We must hear this side of Jesus’ teaching. We must reconsider whether we only take in Jesus’ loving, gentle words or whether we hear the comprehensive breadth of Jesus’ words. We must open our ears and hear even the words of rebuke as if they were spoken to us.

If our first response to the rebuking words of Jesus is to think of how they apply to another, then we are likely avoiding the word that Christ is speaking directly to us. We must receive the rebuking words of Christ with radical humility and openness to correction for our thorough transformation. The spotlight is upon us and we should not be quick to retrain it upon another.

The piercing sword of rebuke is a grace and we need to remember that fact. The first step toward healing is an accurate diagnosis. Jesus’ rebuke is the difficult diagnosis that leads to the Soul-physician’s surgical grace in removing sickness from us in order to make our souls whole.

Jesus rebukes the Pharisees first of all because there is a different type of cleanness than what concerns them. They are concerned about external (superficial) cleanliness but not the internal (deeper) cleanliness. They are concealing deeper uncleanness of soul under the cover of superficial cleanness; like whitewashed graves that are clean outside but hold death.

The cure is found through Jesus the Life-giver who points the way through generosity to the poor (Luke 11:41), attention to justice, and practicing the love of God (11:42). Is this a salvation by works? No, it is the fruit of repentance as we turn from self-seeking religion and hypocrisy. It is the healing pathway out of soul-sickness.

Jesus secondly rebukes the experts in the Law because they have kept life from others. They weigh people down with religious burdens, locking the door to life by their mishandling of God’s Law. The Word intended to bring life – in fact, which brought us to life at Creation – is wielded in such a way that life is snuffed out through incorrect usage.

The anger of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law reflects the reality that Jesus has touched upon a nerve with His rebuke. Do we feel angry or uncomfortable with the words of Jesus? Do we attempt to turn the attention of the difficult diagnosis toward someone else? Is it too painful to hear?

Linger in it. Do not flinch. Open your heart and mind to the rebuke of Jesus. Inside the rebuke is a grace of a loving and healing God.

Receiving the Promise (discussion questions)

This past weekend at Eastbrook Church, we continued our series, “Free: A Study on Galatians,” by looking at the promise God gave us based out of Galatians 3:1-29. Here are the discussion questions that accompany my message, “Receiving the Promise,” which is the third part of our series.

Discussion Questions:

  1. This weekend we continue our series, “Free,” by delving into Galatians, chapter 3. Take a moment to begin with prayer, asking God to speak through your study of the Scripture. Next, read that Bible passage out loud.
  2. At the beginning of Galatians 3, Paul calls out the believers for losing focus on Jesus and the real gospel by asking them a series of questions in verses 1-5. Identify the questions Paul is asking as well as what Paul is trying to reveal through these questions.
  3. Like the Galatian churches, all of us are subtly tempted to stray away from the real gospel of Jesus Christ. How have you or are you being tempted to lose this real gospel in your life or church?
  4. Continuing forward with his argument, Paul takes his readers back to the founder of Israel’s faith, Abraham, and God’s covenant promises to him (3:6-9). What does Paul claim about Abraham and why would this be important in light of those in Galatia asking Gentiles to submit to Jewish religious regulations?
  5. In verses 10-15, Paul outlines both the redeeming and sacrificial work of Jesus Christ in relation to the Jewish law. How would you summarize what Paul says here?
  6. When did you come to realize the meaning of Jesus’ redeeming and sacrificial work for you personally? What happened? How did it change you?
  7. Galatians 3:15-25 outlines the role of the Jewish law – what we call the Old Testament – to the Christian faith. How does Paul answer his own questions in verses 19 and 21? What would you say is the role of the law for Christians?
  8. If you were talking to another Christian who was legalistic, how would you describe to them the place of the Jewish law in our everyday lives as Christians?
  9. In conclusion, Paul summarizes what it means that we are ‘in Christ’ in verses 26-29. It is important to remember that the point of departure for this discussion in Galatians 2 was the disunity of the church between Jew and Gentile. How does the real gospel lead to unity according to Paul here?
  10. Name one thing you will take away from this study on the real gospel? If you are with a small group, take some time to discuss these things with one another. If you are alone, share that with someone this week. Close in prayer.

Receiving the Promise

Free Series Gfx_FacebookThis past weekend at Eastbrook Church I continued our series “Free,” by looking at Galatians 3. In my message, I talked about the promise given by God and how it shapes our individual lives and relationships with others.

You can view a video of the message and the accompanying outline below. You can listen to the message via our audio podcast here. You will be able to view all the messages from the “Free” series here as the series unfolds. Comment on the series on social media using the #ebcfree hashtag.

Connect with us further at Eastbrook Church on VimeoFacebook, Twitter and Instagram.

 

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The Real Gospel (discussion questions)

This past weekend at Eastbrook Church, we continued our series, “Free: A Study on Galatians,” by looking at the real gospel from Galatians 2:1-21. Here are the discussion questions that accompany my message, “The Real Gospel,” which is the second part of our series.

Discussion Questions:

  1. As we continue our series, “Free,” this weekend, we are looking at Galatians, chapter 2. Whether on your own or with a small group, take a moment to begin with prayer, asking God to speak through your study of the Scripture. Next, read that Bible passage out loud.
  2. Background: The first two chapters of Galatians include a lot of biographical background on Paul’s life and ministry. This is important because it helps to show that Paul’s message and calling were derived from God and not human authority. It also helps us understand some of the challenges Paul is facing in the Galatians churches.
  3. How would you characterize Paul’s reasons for going to Jerusalem in Galatians 2:1-10? What role did the leaders in Jerusalem – James, Cephas (Peter), and John – play in his ministry and the unity of the early church’s work with Jews and Gentiles?
  4. In Galatians 2:11-14, Paul relates an incident with Peter while they were in Antioch that he sees as a challenge to the gospel. What is the challenge and how does Paul address it?
  5. It is a fascinating moment to see tension arise between two heroes of the faith, Peter and Paul. Why do you think Paul viewed this issue as significant enough to make such a big deal about it with Peter, instead of simply letting it go?
  6. How important is the core gospel message to you? Do you think it is it worth getting excited or riled up about? Why or why not?
  7. It is likely that Paul is using these stories to address the tensions in the Galatian churches. In verses 15 and 16, Paul outlines the fundamental issues at stake in the Galatian churches. What are these fundamental issues and why are they important?
  8. Galatians 2:19-21 have been described as “the central affirmation of the letter.” What is being affirmed here and what is its significance for Paul and his message, the Galatian churches, and us today?
  9. Name one thing you will take away from this study on the real gospel? If you are with a small group, take some time to discuss these things with one another. If you are alone, share that with someone this week. Close in prayer.

Action step: Pastor Matt encouraged us to memorize Galatians 2:20 during this series as a way to let the gospel message sink deeper into our lives. One way you could do this would be to write Galatians 2:20 on a notecard and keep it in your pocket, pulling it out to memorize it. Another way you could do this would be to print it out and place the verse in several prominent places where you will see it often.

[Next week: We continue the “Free” series by looking at Galatians, chapter 3. Prepare by reading this passage ahead of time.]

The Real Gospel

Free Series Gfx_FacebookThis weekend at Eastbrook Church I continued our series “Free,” in which we are walking through the book of Galatians, by looking at the real gospel that Paul outlines in Galatians 2:1-21. In my message, I contrasted the real gospel with the pale imitations of legalism and libertinism. I referenced fasting as a helpful spiritual practice, and you can read more about fasting here.

You can view a video of the message and the accompanying outline below. You can listen to the message via our audio podcast here. Mark Lynch did a great job starting off the series last week, so if you haven’t viewed his message, I’d encourage you to take a look here.You will be able to view all the messages from the “Free” series here as the series unfolds. Comment on the series on social media using the #ebcfree hashtag.

Connect with us further at Eastbrook Church on VimeoFacebook, Twitter and Instagram.

 

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