Galatians 5 – Freedom in Christ
‘The New Testament does not say “You shall know the rules, and by them you shall be bound”, but “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” J Baillie
There has always been a tendency to misapply the phrase ‘saved by grace alone.’ Freedom in Christ is not licence, it doesn’t mean we can do whatever we like, because through grace God will forgive us anyway. Paul was quite clear that with freedom came obligation. Firstly to Christ; his love constrains us, for how can we spoil a life which Christ paid for with his own life. Secondly to our neighbour. We are free, but we are to put other people first. We are to love our neighbour as ourselves.
A Christian is someone who, by the grace of God, has become free not to sin.
It is not freedom to indulge in the lower side of our human nature, but freedom to walk in the life of the Spirit. Paul offers us two lists which are in sharp contrast. He firstly highlights the things that are of the sinful nature. It’s tempting to skip quickly through these. After all, witchcraft and idolatry would never apply to us. But what about jealousy or selfish ambition? The second is a list of the qualities that we should cultivate in our lives.
Paul firmly believed that the Christian died with Christ and rose again to a new life: one in which the evil things of our old self are gone and the lovely things of the Spirit come to fruition.
Ephesians 6 The Whole Armour of God
There is a spiritual evil that pulls us away from God’s truth and love, which taunts us, and attacks us. The devil pops up over one shoulder and tempts us with something and then pops up over the other and accuses us of entertaining such a thought. Temptation alone is not sin but the devil sure can make it feel like it is.
Our charge here is to put on the full armour of God. We are to put on a belt of truth, for it is remembering God’s truth that will uphold us. The truth holds everything together; it spiritually keeps our trousers up! We are to put on the breastplate of righteousness. Jesus Christ is our righteousness – it is He who has won for us a right relationship with God and others and it is remembering that we are accepted by what He has done that protects our hearts – remembering it is by Him dying in love for us that we are accepted. We are to put on the boots of the gospel of peace – Jesus has defeated evil – although evil continues to battle against us the war has been won. We are to be fitted with the readiness to proclaim the gospel, to spread the good news that we have the victory against temptation. Our faith protects us a shield – all the accusations and taunts that are fired at us are extinguished by our trust in God. The helmet of salvation or the ‘hope of salvation’ as it is described elsewhere (1 Thessalonians 5:8) protects us our minds from being discouraged – we have a great future ahead of us in God’s presence for eternity. Hope lifts us from darkness to light.
Finally we must take hold of the only offensive weapon – the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God – it was Scripture that Jesus used three times in the wilderness to answer the devil’s temptation. Knowledge of the word of God is essential for us to resist temptation. By keeping the discipline of daily readings such as these we are equipped for the battle.
We are to put on each piece of armour in prayer – that is in a dependant relationship with God of constant communication. To avoid evil we are not allow any distance to grow between us and God. When we sin we are to confess immediately to not give the devil a foothold.
Philippians 1:18—2:18 Christ’s Example
This passage features what many regard to be an early Christian hymn (Phil. 2:5-11). However, when we just take those verses alone, as is the temptation for many preachers, we miss the importance of its context. This early hymn is used here by Paul to draw a correlation between us and Christ. All of the pronouns here are in the plural; this is a letter written not to an individual but a community. We do not always agree with each other as Christians but there should be agreement in our attitude: it is to mirror the mind of Christ (Phil. 2:5). Paul here wants to emphasise humility. Is humility something you struggle with? Is it an area of your life where you need to be transformed by the Holy Spirit to become more like Jesus? The person who says that they are ‘excelling in humility’ has probably missed the point!
I am fascinated by verse 7 and the phrase ‘emptied Himself’ (NRSV) also translated ‘made Himself nothing’ (NIV). How we translate this phrase from the original Greek is so important in following Christ’s example and accurately living it out in our own lives. The word ‘emptied’ begs the question ‘of what?’ What did Jesus empty Himself of? Love? Divinity? Status? Theologically we can get into all sorts of problems here! Actually the Greek means to ‘pour out’. We don’t pour out from something that is ‘empty’ but something that is full. Jesus ‘poured Himself out’ of fullness. In His ministry He was fully divine, fully human, full of the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:1). He gave everything for us. We too are to pour ourselves out of fullness. We are to generously pour ourselves out serving others not from emptiness but from constant fullness. Keeping ourselves spiritually healthy; spending quality time in prayer and the Scriptures is essential. May we as a community of faith devote ourselves to Christ and from the fullness that flows from Him may we pour ourselves out to serve the world.
Colossians 3:1-17 Putting on the New Self
In this letter to the church at Colosse Paul instructs them to ‘put on’ or as some Bible translations put it ‘clothe yourselves’ with a wonderful list of virtues to ensure our relationships are healthy (vv. 12-13). Above all is the need to ‘put on love which binds everything else in perfect harmony’ (v. 14). This section of the passage is popular at weddings. I remember preaching from it once at the wedding of a couple of friends; the groom a member of a mountain rescue team, the bride a member of the Territorial Army.
The groom knew that if you were to go out onto the side of a mountain on an adventure you would need the correct equipment, the right clothing. The bride understood the need for the correct kit if you are entering a war zone. A good marriage should feel more like an adventure than a warzone! Thankfully it is the same clothing you need in the good times or hard – you need to clothe yourselves with love – the question is ‘what is love really all about?’ The love that we are to clothe ourselves with is a love that can be known, it is a relationship with God that has been made possible by Jesus – it is a relationship that defines what every relationship should be like.
Jesus shows us what it really means to put on kindness, lowliness, meekness and patience, what it really means to forbear and to forgive. Jesus took what was ours, our mistakes, our wrongdoing, our sin. In return we receive what is His – a right relationship with God and others.
Because of this relationship we should be different, identifiable from the rest of the world. The heart of that difference is love. We should strive to love others as Christ has loved us. Who are the people you find it difficult to love? Pray for them today.
James 1 Pure Religion
James is quite a difficult letter to read and can at times feel a little disjointed. At the same time it is very practical. It has been suggested that behind this letter is a sermon. The use of imaginary objectors, rhetorical questions, rich illustrations, startling statements and the affectionate and warm address of ‘brothers’ suggests the relationship of preacher and congregation. The letter addresses the question of what true faith should look like. The use of the adjective ‘religion’ (vv. 26, 27) only appears here in the New Testament. We think of religion as our outward actions, and sometimes use it in a derogatory sense for when actions are made without understanding. Commentators discussing this word note that it is the ‘external manifestation of spirituality’ and a ‘relationship to God rooted in the heart and shaping the life’. Pure religion is the life that is lived connected to God in a personal relationship. James doesn’t mean to be comprehensive in his description of how that should look (vv.26-27) but rather suggests that a genuine relationship with God will affect our speech, our concern for the needy and our distinctness from the world. Does your relationship with God affect the way you speak about and to others? It should! Do you practically care for those in need? Are people able to tell that you have a personal relationship with God through your conduct? If you feel that you are struggling read James 4:6b-10. Come near to God and he will come near to you.
Revelation 21–22 The New Heaven and Earth
When we look around the world there are plenty of signs that it is not as it should be. Even the local newspapers can be harrowing reading before we consider the wars and injustices across the world. In Revelation 21:1-5, God promises ‘I am making all things new’. How does this affect the way you view the world? The creation that God declared ‘good’ in Genesis 1 (way back in day one of our readings) He believed was worth saving. Jesus came to redeem God’s creation and we wait for the time of His return when His kingdom will come in all its fullness (Romans 8:18-25). This passage describes that when God puts all things right the transformation will be so great that there will be a new heavens and a new earth. The picture used elsewhere (Hebrews 12:25-29) is of God ‘shaking’ the earth and the heavens. Tom Wright comments that it is like a promise from God that He will ‘take His creation by the scruff of the neck and make it, at last, what He intended it would be’. Read Isaiah 43:19. These eschatological (end time) promises speak of the time we live in as Jesus has announced (inaugurated) the coming of the Kingdom (Mark1:15). We should be able to see the signs of God’s kingdom coming. Where can you see the signs of God’s Kingdom coming?
In our ‘God’s Big Story’ video series, Jonathan Widdess commented that God is ‘making it (the earth) right by making people right, one at a time’. Paul speaks of this in Philippians 1:6. How is God doing this in your life? Have you seen the signs of God’s Kingdom coming in the lives of others? How has this affected your sense of hope and your expectancy for Jesus’ return?
Review the last forty days: how has God spoken to you?
What are the things you need to change in light of this series of readings?
What is the greatest encouragement you have received from these readings? Why not share it with someone else?