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Galatians – The Liberating Epistle

Galatians is a book deep in meaning for the Christian believer and it is vital to our faith. It is in Galatians that Paul declares, “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” It is in Galatians that He encourages us on the Christian journey when he says, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” In Galatians we are warned, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” And, it is in Galatians that we understand the brotherhood of man; “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Galatians is the liberating epistle. It sets believers free from the demands, the requirements, and the prescriptions of the Old Testament Law. These burdens are replaced with the presentation of Jesus Christ as the all-sufficient Savior and the Holy Spirit as our divine energy and power. Paul wrote this letter to the Galatians because the people had their doubts and he dealt with their doubts candidly — “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.”

People define freedom in a variety of ways and it seems to mean different things to different people. Archibald MacLeish defines freedom as “the right to choose: the right to create for yourself the alternatives of choice. Without the possibility of choice and the exercise of choice a man is not a man but a member, an instrument, a thing.” How ever we chose to define it, one thing is certain, freedom is scary.

We all want freedom, but it has its obligations and responsibilities. For example, when a child finally leaves home, he or she discovers that it is a lot different being on one’s own that it is being at home with parents. This is why many of them return to the nest. Freedom overwhelms them. They learn that freedom is only the beginning; then comes the obligations and responsibilities, the discipline and sacrifice.

Everyone has something from which we want to be free. Most often, it is freedom from some form of control exerted over one’s life. America fought for freedom from England, Blacks fought for freedom from slavery and white supremacy, women have fought for freedom from male dominancy and inequity and we all want to be free from the burden of rising taxes and escalating cost of living. Paul’s problem however, was trying to get the new Christians to trust Christ to guide and sustain them as they assumed their new freedom from the Jewish law, which he found to be a challenging task.

Of course we all know that there is no such thing as absolute freedom. As long as we live in this world, we will always be obligated in some way. Just being alive obligates us to care for our physical and health needs. Being a part of a family requires certain responsibilities. On any job, there are limitations and boundaries. Moreover, simply being human means that we are bound by our inheritance (the kind of home training we had, the kind of education afforded us, the amount of security and love we were given as children and so forth). Many, unfortunately, are still enslaved by a wasted youth and they spend countless hours wondering what life would have been like had they been given a better start. But the point I am trying to make is that we are all freedom limited in some way or another.

Paul is assuring us in Galatians that Jesus can show us how to find a new freedom that is available to us. The people he preached to had been reared in synagogues, brought up under the law, raised in homes with long traditions. He showed them the freedom available to them to live above and beyond this background, to rise above their past, to unhinge their lives from their traditions, to take on Christ Jesus and the newness of life.

Paul is telling us that regardless of what it is that binds us, Jesus can show us the kind of freedom that gives power to choose, that inner sanctuary of the soul. He spoke from experience. He too had been bound and enslaved by his past. Paul as a young Rabbi was so violently against Christ that he set out to destroy the Christians. But he changed. He did not need a psychiatrist, psychologist, or social worker. One day he encountered Jesus. In Christ Jesus, Paul found the power to use his freedom and he changed. He said, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

When we talk about the freedom Christ gives, it doe not matter where we were born, what kind of raising we had, who our friends were, what people did to us, what kinds of names we were called, what kind of trouble we once got into, how low we sank or how far behind we fell. None of these things matter because when you add it all up, we still have some options left, some choices we can make.

There is a degree of freedom that God guarantees to all of us and with Jesus, we can find it and use it. God has given us the capacity to break the fetters and free ourselves. It is that bundle of human attributes that all of us have: our extraordinary power to think, to reason, to remember. It is our miraculous nervous system and the brain that elevates us above behavior by instinct to behavior that we choose from a range of choices. It is our creative powers of imagination, which enable us to know persons through literature and to enjoy places and events beyond our own personal experience.

God has given us the ability to make tools, to invent ways to reach Venus, to write poems, to compose symphonies, to conquer diseases, to create fellowship, to rid the world of war, hunger, ignorance, and illiteracy. And when we add it all up, we become cognizant of the fact that God in Christ has empowered us to reach higher standards, to revise our value system, to extinguish destructive relationships, to make a new beginning toward a strong and vital faith.

We are equipped adequately enough, but what many of us need is the spiritual energy, the power, the motivation, the spiritual rebirth that Christ provides. When Jesus is truly head of our lives and acknowledged as the Lord of our salvation, we will discover ourselves being drawn into His inexhaustible power and enabled to do all things in His strength.

Lastly, freedom is not only from something, but it is also freedom for something. Freedom in Christ is not just an unshackling but also an elevation. We are not jut set free, we soar.

After slaves fought for their freedom and the abolition of slavery accomplished in 1865, many of them walked right back into slavery. Though it was not slavery proper, it was the same existence. They were free on the official records, but not free in their hearts and minds. And then there were others who were free long before slavery was abolished. When the freedom bells rang and the jubilee songs filled the air, the truly free took flight and left their old identities behind. They had the freedom that Christ controls.

Galatians reminds us that even in the midst of life’s chains, the answer is Jesus. His freedom lifts us to higher heights on this pilgrim journey.

“Slavery Chain”

Slavery chain done broke at last, broke

at last, broke at last,

Slavery chain done broke at last,

Going to praise God till I die

Way down in-a dat valley

Praying on my knees

Told God about my troubles,

And to help me ef-a He please

I did tell him how I suffer,

In de dungeon and de chain,

And de days were with head bowed down,

And my broken flesh and pain.

I did know my Jesus heard me,

‘Cause de spirit spoke to me

And said, ‘Rise my child, your chillun,

And you shall be free.

‘I done ‘p’int one mighty captain

For to marshall all my hosts

And to bring my bleeding ones to me

And not one shall be lost.’

Slavery chain done broke at last, broke

at last, broke at last,

Slavery chain done broke at last,

Going to praise God till I die

The Spirituals and the Blues

by James Cone, 1972

Source by Saundra L. Washington

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