In last week’s post I suggested that Paul would encourage us to give up some of our freedoms for the benefit of our weaker fellow-believers. But Paul did not advocate giving up the freedom that was paid for by Christ’s blood just to go back to the legalistic way of living that had been commonplace before Christ’s arrival on Earth. And I’m sure that he considered the dietary changes to be a temporary accommodation. Once believers come to truly understand their freedom in Christ, they would grow beyond those food restrictions.
In Galatians 4:4-7 Paul explains to the people of Galatia that God sent Christ to Earth to redeem us from our bondage to the law, and to give us the full freedom of being a child of God. When I use the word law here, I am referring to religious law. The Bible clearly tells us to respect those who are in authority over us, (I Peter 2:13-17, Romans 13:7), but that does not include adhering to legalistic religious practices. Just before this passage, in Galatians 4:1-3, Paul uses the example of a child in a human family. In Roman society, minor children were cared for, taught and disciplined by slaves. Since children were required to obey slaves, they were no better than slaves themselves. But when they reached the appointed age set by their father, they became heirs, with all the rights and inheritance of an heir’s position in the family. Likewise, at a time set by our Heavenly Father, when he sent His Son to redeem us, we became heirs in our heavenly family.
Just as the child had to obey his earthly caregiver until his position was upgraded, Paul’s listeners and their ancestors had had to obey Mosaic law until the appointed time. Then they had the opportunity to move into the position of co-heir with Christ. (Romans 8:14-17) They were given an invitation to join God’s family with the same rights of family membership that Christ has. We have been given that opportunity since the day that Christ paid the penalty for our sins. This was and is a gift of grace. There are no rules, rituals or practices that we must follow to earn it. Yes, we have to make the choice, but once we do we become inheritors of the kingdom of God. Can you even begin to imagine? Many people can’t, which is why they go back to the rituals and rule-following that make them comfortable. There is no need, and it is a sign of immaturity, of remaining a child that needs to be restricted. Accept the freedom that you have in Christ.
A while back (July 15, 2011), I suggested that perhaps God was trying to teach me patience, even though I hadn’t prayed for such spiritual development. In the last couple of weeks, the lessons took on a new twist. Those of you who follow me on Facebook and Twitter may have noticed that my posts have been a little shorter and a little less frequent than usual. That is because I was visiting the land that technology forgot. I was there because my parents live there, and I like to see them even if it means disconnecting from the rest of the world. They live in a small community where there is no cell service, and my mother uses an eight year old computer to connect to the Internet by dial-up. Some of you may not even know what that is; suffice to say it is a slow, slow process. For my mother it is perfectly sufficient, but anyone who wants to use Twitter is out of luck. Thus the lessons in patience, as I tried to connect with my phone on any occasion that we happened to drive through an area with a signal.
A lot of people refer to Job—as in, he has the patience of Job—when they are looking for an example of patience, but no one is more patient than God Himself. After all, He has to put up with all of our inadequacies, mistakes and outright rebellion. He is patient with us because He thinks we’re worth waiting for; He does not want a single one of us to perish. (II Peter 3:9)
David understood this quality of God when he cried out to Him in Psalm 86. David was once again in a position where he desperately needed God’s help; he was being pursued by ruthless men who sought to take his life. (Psalm 86:14) But in Psalm 86:15, David recognizes the attributes of God that are able to save him from his situation. We too, can have these attributes in us. By inviting the Holy Spirit to live in us, and getting to know God better, we will have more of this fruit, (Galatians 5:22-23, August 8, 2011) including patience.