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Spiritual freedom versus law-bound living

July 10, 2024

Daily Scripture

Galatians 5:1-6

1 Christ has set us free for freedom. Therefore, stand firm and don’t submit to the bondage of slavery again.
2 Look, I, Paul, am telling you that if you have yourselves circumcised, having Christ won’t help you. 3 Again I swear to every man who has himself circumcised that he is required to do the whole Law. 4 You people who are trying to be made righteous by the Law have been estranged from Christ. You have fallen away from grace! 5 We eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness through the Spirit by faith. 6 Being circumcised or not being circumcised doesn’t matter in Christ Jesus, but faith working through love does matter.

Daily Reflection & Prayer

Few if any of us have ever been slaves—but in the Roman Empire, quite a few of Paul’s readers either had been or were still slaves. “No one would tolerate the reversion to become a slave again, once redeemed and set free. A person’s spiritual condition is similar (cf. Galatians 4:8–9), Paul argues. Christ has paid a high price in redeeming sinners and setting them free (Galatians 1:4; 3:13). No one should therefore return to the state of slavery.” *

  • Some first-century Christians thought God couldn’t accept uncircumcised Gentile men. They had Genesis 17:9-14 to “prove” their view. The apostle Paul disagreed: “… all that mattered was faith which works through love…. the essence of Christianity is not law but a personal relationship to Jesus Christ. The Christian’s faith is founded not on a book but on a person; its dynamic is not obedience to any law but love to Jesus Christ.” ** How has Jesus’ grace freed you from trying to earn God’s love by rule-keeping?
  • Paul passionately urged the Galatian Christians to never give up their freedom in Christ. Required circumcision is not a big issue for Christian men today. What are other ways you have seen “rules” pressed as crucial to salvation? How can living in Christian freedom produce “faith working through love” better than rules? Have you ever honestly thought you were right on a secondary point, but let it go out of love rather than pressing it on other believers?

Lord Jesus, like all your children, I miss the mark at times. I’m so thankful you died to set me free from guilt, and that you empower me to keep living into your love in the freedom you offer. Amen.

GPS Insights

Picture of Justin Burnett

Justin Burnett

Justin Burnett serves as a Missions Engagement Program Director for Resurrection's Leawood location and is a Declared Candidate for ordained ministry in the United Methodist Church. Justin graduated from Drury University with a B.S. degree in Emergency Management. He later moved to Overland Park, Kansas to answer God's call to professional ministry and is a seminary student at Saint Paul School of Theology. In Justin's spare time, he enjoys nature, travel, film, games, and music—​singing with the Leawood modern worship team on occasion.

In Galatians 5, Paul writes about the early church’s struggle to let go of the old covenant. This internal battle prevented Christians from fully accepting the grace of the new covenant. While change is difficult, Hebrews 8:6 declares that “… Jesus has received a superior priestly service just as he arranged a better covenant that is enacted with better promises.” Once embraced, the new covenant’s outward focus​love for God and othersbrought spiritual renewal to the early church and continues to inspire us today. 

Several months ago, I was driving home after a service at church. My carefree drive was soon disrupted by the sight of flashing red and blue lights. I quickly realized that my Sunday morning jam session was too loud, and this oversight resulted in the very “generous” use of my accelerator. While this story could have become an object lesson on setbacks in life, thankfully, it did not. This is a story about grace. In this case, the officer demonstrated grace by letting me go with a friendly (and free) reminder to slow down in the future.
When I think of the new covenant, I am reminded of my prior experience. A strict reading of the law (the old covenant) would have required the officer to cite my excessive speed. But a new understanding of law (the new covenant) allows grace to work. While our spiritual walk may not have speed limit signs or officers to issue or forgive tickets, there are parallels. As Christians, we have the Holy Spirit to mentor us when we stray from the path of righteousness, and Jesus continually stands in the gap to atone for our sin.
Some contend that grace leads us to err more, but that is not how a redeemed heart works. After being offered grace by the officer, did I spin my wheels to speed away even faster? No! That response would be ludicrous because a contrite heart does not respond this way. 
We must recognize that the penalty for our sin was paid in full by Jesus Christ at Calvary. This newfound freedom allows us to live without fear. While we may still face earthly consequence for our mistakes, heaven is not keeping count.
Today, may we recognize that God’s love and grace are not conditional. That truth is the heart of the new covenant. Instead of carrying rulebooks to measure piety, we find our identity and perfection in Jesus Christ. It is this truth that will lead us to walk in greater love and grace for one another, too. This is the freedom that leads toward Christian perfection.
© 2024 Resurrection: A United Methodist Church. All Rights Reserved.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Common English Bible ©2011. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

* Ralph P. Martin and Julie Wu, comment on Galatians 5:1 in Romans to Philemon: Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, Volume 3. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002, p. 288.
** William Barclay, The Letters to the Galatians and Ephesians (Revised Edition). Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1976, p. 43.