Thursday, August 27, 2015

In Christ…Freedom

            Jesus was remarkably free. In a world that praised wealth as the “blessing of God” and looked down on people in poverty, Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor” and he associated with them. In a culture that denigrated women and even taught men to pray, “God I thank you that I am not a woman” Jesus welcomed women as his disciples and taught them their God given value. In a religion that sought to be holy through separation from those whom they deemed impure, Jesus “was a friend of sinners.” The freedom of Jesus was so offensive to the religious leaders that they decided they had to kill him to keep his teachings of freedom from destroying their work. Jesus was remarkably free, and it made the people around him nervous!

            One of the people nervous about the freedom of Jesus was a young man named Saul of Tarsus. He was so upset with the followers of Jesus that he went from city to city trying to arrest them and destroy their freedom in Jesus Christ. Then he met Jesus and everything changed for him. All the things he trusted as his ticket to the kingdom – his Jewish identity, his family pedigree, his personal accomplishments, his willingness to submit to the traditions of his religion – he traded for faith in Jesus!  And the God of freedom set him free. The one who sought to stomp out the freedom given by Jesus became its best promoter!

            To the churches in the province of Galatia, Paul wrote these amazing words: 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. (Galatians 5:1) I find it amazing that a man who was once willing to arrest and even kill people to defend his faith, could so casually describe it as “a yoke of slavery!” But if you read Paul frequently you will know that in speaking to the Philippians he used an even more surprising term! “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish that I may gain Christ…” (Philippians 3:7-8). All those things he was so proud of and trusted in during his former life he called “loss” and “rubbish.” (In the Greek it is the word for dung!). Only a heart set free could talk like this!

            This transformation in Paul was noticed by the people who were still interested in controlling others in the name of God! They sought to oppose Paul and spoil his work. Paul should have recognized them easily because he was once just like them. But once you have been set free, you cannot return to a life of slavery – even (especially!) religious slavery. So Paul taught these Christians to stand firm in their freedom in Christ. He pushed them to remember that “In Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love!” (Galatians 5:6) Jesus is remarkably free. He gave that freedom to Paul as a precious gift. Paul shared it with others in an effort to help them live “free in Christ.” It might occur to you that only those who are free can give freedom to others! Jesus offers you freedom – freedom from sin, freedom from oppressive religious systems, freedom to love. Are you ready to live free?

- Kenny Payne   

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