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Freedom vs. License

I’ve heard people say that if you preach too much about our freedom in Christ, then believers will start to think that they have a license to live however they want.  But is that the truth?  And if it was, would that be a reason to stop preaching the true Word of God?

Paul starts to deal with some of these issues in his letter to the Galatian church.

At that time the son born in the ordinary way persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit.  It is the same now.
Galatians 4:29

It’s obvious from this verse that Paul’s talking about the Judaizers who were causing him so much trouble.  They felt that the Gentiles needed to come under the Law of Moses in order to maintain their salvation.

In my experience, this verse is as applicable today as it was back then.  There are Christians in our generation who believe in a set of rules that must be followed.  They believe there’s a certain lifestyle that must be adhered to.

Understand me – if the Bible calls something sin, then God hates it.  If we’re involved in it, we need to repent and turn from it.  So I’m not talking about a freedom to sin.

What I am talking about, are believers who try to make it so hard for people to grow.  If a child spills his milk, you expect that; he’s a child.  Why don’t we give young believers that same benefit of the doubt?

I’ve been told that you can’t emphasize our freedom in Christ.  It causes believers to “backslide” and fall into sin.

Well, I’ve been a pastor for 30 years.  I preach about our sonship and freedom in Christ.  I preach about the walk of maturity and power.  So I think that I have some experience in this area.

What I’ve found over the years is that the vast majority of those I taught have gone on to a mature Christian walk as well as an understanding of their call to ministry.  Yes, some have fallen away.  But most of those who fell into sin, started by first rejecting me and my teaching.

Paul makes it very clear…

But what does the Scripture say?  “Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.”  Therefore, brothers, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.
Galatians 4:30-31

My belief is that new believers should start out being shown what they need to do to grow in Christ.  Reading the Word, attending a church, tithing, praying, etc.  Just like physical children, they need to be shown how to be responsible with their salvation.

Along with that, they need to be shown the freedom and joy of maturity.  That’s what works in the natural.  Children look up to their parents.  They want to be free to drive their own car someday.  They want to have a job and have their own money.

If you never show people what God offers, they’ll never strive for a deeper walk.  It’s not natural for a 25-year-old, living with his parents, to be told that if he cleans his room he’ll get an extra treat after dinner.  There’s a freedom that comes with maturity.

We just have to learn this truth in the family of God.  I like the way the Apostle Paul sums it all up.

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 believe that given the choice, most Christians will choose the power and freedom of a mature walk in Christ over sin every time.

Question: What’s been your experience with legalistic believers?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017

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Posted by on September 15, 2017 in Legalism, Sonship, Spiritual Walk

 

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Born into Freedom

In my last post, I talked about Paul’s illustration using Abraham’s two sons.  We saw that Ishmael, born into slavery, was Paul’s example of viewing the Law as our covenant.  He’s adamant that we were saved into freedom.

But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother.  For it is written: “Be glad, O barren woman, who bears no children; break forth and cry aloud, you who have no labor pains; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband.”
Galatians 4:26-27

Paul explains to us that our spiritual mother, the one that birthed us into God’s family, is the Jerusalem from above.  We also know it as the New Jerusalem that Christ is preparing for us.  But how can a city be our mother?  To answer that, we need to look way ahead to the book of Revelation.

This is what the Apostle John describes as taking place after the Judgment Seat of Christ.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.  I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
Revelation 21:1-2

He talks about the New Jerusalem as the bride of Christ.  It should be obvious that Jesus isn’t marrying a city.  It’s the inhabitants of that city who are the bride of Christ.

In the same way, Paul is not talking about the physical city being our mother.  The Jerusalem that is above is referring to the bride.  We were brought into the family of God by those who were fulfilling their calling.

A member of the bride of Christ spoke the Word of God to us.  When we heard this Good News, faith was birthed in our hearts.  We then responded by accepting Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord.  In that sense, the New Jerusalem is our mother.

Because we were birthed through faith in the Word, we are born into the freedom of Christ.

Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise.
Galatians 4:28-29

When we accepted Christ we were born by the Spirit of God into the promise.  What promise?  The same promise that Isaac was born into.

Now that the addendum of the Law has been fulfilled by Christ, we are under the renewed covenant of Abraham.  We are now entitled to all the blessings that were promised to his family.  If you don’t believe it, then let me remind you of what Paul already told the Galatian church just a few paragraphs before this.

If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
Galatians 3:29

Don’t let anyone try to tell you that you’re still obligated to follow the Law.  My blessings are not contingent upon my performance.  They’re based on God’s love for me and my family relationship with Him.

Having said that, we understand that we’re in a covenant relationship with Christ.  Therefore, I want to spend quality time with Him through the Holy Spirit.  I want to know Him in a deeper way.  I want the Spirit to make me more and more like the Lord.  In this way, I can experience all the blessings that Christ purchased for me.

Question: Why do some people seem to be so attracted to the Law?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017

 
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Posted by on September 13, 2017 in Faith, Legalism, Sonship, Spiritual Walk

 

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Family or Slavery?

When it comes to serving Christ, why do some choose rules over a relationship?  I believe that, just like in a family, good relationships are harder to maintain.  This is the very thing that Paul talks about in his letter to the Galatian church.

Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says?
Galatians 4:21

Many people are under the assumption that following a set of rules is the best way to serve God.  They think that as long as they try to do good things and keep away from the evil things, then they’ll be okay.  Unfortunately, this kind of thinking shows a basic misunderstanding of how God operates through His people.

The Apostle Paul, an expert in the law, explains this important truth to the church.

For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman.  His son by the slave woman was born in the ordinary way; but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a promise.
Galatians 4:22-23

When we talk about a relationship, especially in the spirit, it has nothing to do with the works you’ve done.  The important thing is how you entered the relationship.  How do you begin to relate to God?

Paul says that there are two ways.  He uses the example of Abraham’s two children.  He tells us that one was born according to the flesh, the other by an announcement from God.  So the two ways of relating to God are by natural means; or by the Word of God.

Many people try the natural method.  They look at their lives and say, “It’s about time that I grow up.  I need to start taking more responsibility and act in a more mature way.”  They say that they’ve “turned over a new leaf.”

They start to read the Bible and think about how they can live like the good people described in its pages.  There’s no spiritual change, it’s all done in the flesh.  They use self-discipline and drive to accomplish their goal to live better.

Please understand – the desire to walk in maturity is a commendable thing.  The problem is that it’s nearly impossible in the natural.  Ask anyone who attends an AA meeting.  It only takes one weak moment to knock you back to the start of the whole process.

That’s what Paul’s talking about here.

These things may be taken figuratively, for the women represent two covenants.  One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar.  Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children.
Galatians 4:24-25

Paul talks about two covenants.  But if you remember, he already told the Galatian church that the law was not really a covenant, but an addendum to the true covenant.  (Click here to review it.)

What he’s saying is that if you want to view the Law as another covenant, then you’re headed for slavery.  And I can tell you plainly that this is not God’s will for you.  The Lord wants a family, not slaves.

Christ went to the cross so that His people could walk in total freedom.  As we continue to go through Galatians in future posts, we’ll see how this freedom is supposed to work in us.

Question: What are the similarities and differences between the family and slavery relationships?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017

 
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Posted by on September 11, 2017 in Legalism, Sonship, Spiritual Walk

 

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The Trial of Sickness

As we continue our look at Paul’s letter to the Galatians, we come to a point where the Apostle makes a personal comment.  He speaks about his first visit to that area.  He was the first to bring the message of Christ to these people.

I plead with you, brothers, become like me, for I became like you. You have done me no wrong.  As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you.  Even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn.  Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself.  What has happened to all your joy?  I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me.
Galatians 4:12-15 (NIV)

Paul brought the Gospel to this region.  When they heard it, they accepted it as from the Lord, Himself.  They turned to Christ wholeheartedly and were saved.  Paul has a fond memory of this time.

But there is a controversy surrounding this passage.  There are those who use it as a proof text to show that God doesn’t want to heal everyone.  They say that this verse shows that Paul suffered from an ongoing eye problem that was never healed.  And, therefore, healing isn’t for everybody.

I believe that Jesus Christ paid for our healing on the cross.  It’s freely available to all who believe.  For a more in-depth look at this subject, you can read my Healing 101 Series and my Healing 201 Series.

For now, I simply want to look at what Paul is actually saying in this passage.  Normally I like the NIV translation because of its simple language.  In this case, however, it hasn’t been very accurate with the original Greek.

I believe that the NKJV is closer to the original.

You know that because of physical infirmity I preached the gospel to you at the first.  And my trial which was in my flesh you did not despise or reject, but you received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus.
Galatians 4:13-14 (NKJV)

In these verses, Paul refers to the sickness in two ways.  He first calls it an infirmity in his flesh.  The next thing he calls it is a trial in his flesh.  This is a very important statement in understanding sickness.

Remember this – trials are NEVER meant to be permanent.  Paul said that it was – past tense – in his flesh.  By referring to his sickness as a trial that happened in the past, he is also testifying that his healing has already manifested.  He has no permanent, ongoing eye problem.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
James 1:2-4

What is the end goal of a trial?  To bring you to the place where you’re not lacking anything.  Are you lacking health?  Consider it a trial bringing you to a place where you’re physically healed and whole.

Christ is the Healer.  Paul believed it.  James believed it.  I believe it.  Don’t let anyone, who doubts the Scripture, steal your joy.  Jesus paid the price for your healing.  Trust Him to bring it to pass.

Question: Do you have a testimony of God’s healing power?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017

 
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Posted by on September 6, 2017 in Faith, Healing, The Gospel

 

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Religion is Slavery

Slavery is evil.  But when someone chooses to be a slave to an unworthy master, that’s just plain foolish.  It’s so unfortunate that this is the position many Christians find themselves in.

As we continue our look at Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he begins to talk about this problem.

Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods.
Galatians 4:8

Paul tells us here that before we experienced the true God, we were under the yoke of slavery.  Now, having come to Christ, we’ve learned the freedom that’s only available in Him.  Paul is perplexed about why anyone would ever want to go back to the old ways.

But now that you know God — or rather are known by God — how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles?  Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?
Galatians 4:9

Paul makes it clear that this slavery is not to a person.  We choose to be enslaved by certain principles.  And his description of these principles – this way of ordering our lives – makes it sound like it’s not worth serving under them.

He says that they’re weak, without any power.  I want my life to change, but trying to serve a set of rules doesn’t bring about that change.  I’m the same person I always was, but now I’m struggling to act differently than my natural desires.

He also calls these principles miserable.  The word he uses means a fearful, beggarly existence.  In other words, you want God’s blessing, but you’re so afraid that at any step you’ll do something wrong and lose it all.  You’re hoping that by your good works you’ll convince God that you’re worthy of His blessings.

I can tell you from experience that this is a miserable way to live.  And yet there are many who only serve God in this way.  They’re in constant fear of making God mad at them.  They’re in slavery to a no-win lifestyle.

You are observing special days and months and seasons and years!  I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.
Galatians 4:10-11

The bottom line is that God isn’t pleased with us because of our rituals and observances.  He loves us because we’re in Christ.  He sees us under the blood – washed clean and delivered from our past.  It’s not about ritual but relationship that brings us closer to the Lord.

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
Philippians 3:10-11

Please understand what Paul is saying here.  It’s not that he wants to know about, read about, or learn about Christ.  He wants to know Christ deeper and deeper on a personal level.  The more he knows Christ, the more like Him Paul will become.

Instead of fearing that we’ll get God mad at us, we should be drawing on our relationship with Him.  Spend time in His presence.  Let the Holy Spirit work in you as He wills.  Don’t waste time by putting yourself back under a yoke of slavery.

Question: Why is relationship better than slavery?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017

 
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Posted by on September 4, 2017 in Encouragement, Legalism, Spiritual Walk

 

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Are You a Prodigal?

I’ve been posting about our sonship in Christ from the book of Galatians.  Paul makes it clear that this is our primary relationship with the Father.  He is looking for mature sons to represent His kingdom on earth.

Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.
Galatians 4:6-7

One of the best illustrations that I’ve found to describe what the Lord is looking for comes from Christ Himself.  He sums up this truth in what we call the story of the Prodigal Son.

In Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-52) there are actually two prodigals.  Both sons disappointed the father.  If I can understand the problem that’s put forth, then I can walk in a way that’s pleasing to God.

You’re probably wondering why I said that both of the sons disappointed the father.  Most people teach that only the younger son was in the wrong.  Actually, they both had the same problem, they just handled it differently.

The Scripture shows that the two sons had an incorrect view of their relationship to the father.  After spending all of his inheritance, the younger brother made this statement.

‘I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’
Luke 15:18-19

He’d lived his life on the assumption that his father wanted him to be a servant.  As a result, he broke free by demanding his inheritance and leaving home.

The older brother had the same view of his father.  But instead of leaving, he lived under it his whole life.  It all came out when the younger brother returned and the father wanted to know why the older brother didn’t want to celebrate.

But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.’
Luke 15:29

Did you hear him?  “All these years I’ve been your servant.”

Both sons were under the assumption that the father wanted them as slaves.  Nothing was further from the truth.  The father was looking for faithful sons who he could entrust all of his possessions to.

It’s the same in our walk with the Lord.  How do you see yourself?  Do you think that God wants you for a slave?  If so, then you’re headed down the same road as the prodigal.

You might turn out like the older brother and spend your life in frustration thinking that God’s treating you unfairly.  Or you may respond like the younger, giving up on serving God altogether.

The truth is that God doesn’t want you to be His slave.  He’s looking for mature sons and daughters who will carry out His will on the earth.

Our goal should be to learn how to mature in Christ.  To be a faithful representative of the Lord on earth.  The Father is looking for adult sons and daughters who’ll live according to the leading of His Spirit in us.

Question: How does laying aside the slave mentality help you in your walk with God?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017

 
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Posted by on September 1, 2017 in Legalism, Sonship, Spiritual Walk

 

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The Rights of a Son

In my last post, I talked about living the mature life above the promises.  This teaching is carried on throughout the New Testament.  It’s not just a verse pulled out of context, but a scriptural theme that has been all but ignored by the church.

But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.
Galatians 4:4-5

In his letter to the Galatians, Paul talks about this life of sonship in Christ.  It’s something that I’m still trying to walk in the fullness of.

But what really began to set me free was when I realized that the promises are the rights of sons.  For instance, this means that the promise associated with tithing has been fulfilled.  God rebukes the devourer because I’m a son.

We need the revelation that we now receive the promises based upon sonship.  It’s not up to me to fulfill the promise.

For if those who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless, because law brings wrath.  And where there is no law there is no transgression.
Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring – not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham.  He is the father of us all.
Romans 4:14-16

This is a foundational passage in our knowledge of how the promises are obtained in Christ.  The blessing is received, not by my working to do the requirements, but by faith in the One who has already fulfilled them.

This truth is not only given to us by Paul but also by Peter as well.

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.  Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
2 Peter 1:3-4

The phrase, through these, obviously refers to the glory and goodness of God, not our works of righteousness.  As a matter of fact, the implications of this go deeper than we have yet discussed.

According to this verse, the reason God blesses us is so that we might actually be participants, sharers, in His divine nature.  You will not find the call for us to fulfill the requirements of the promises anywhere in the New Covenant.

If that’s true, then what are the promises for?  We can look at it this way; each promise has two halves.  There are the requirements and the blessing.  According to the New Testament, Jesus came to fulfill the requirements of the promises.  We receive the blessing of the promise because of His finished work on the cross, and because we’re in Him.

As I’ve said before, you need the whole truth to be effective.  That’s why it’s so important to understand the work that Christ did to redeem us.

Question: Why is it so hard for us to accept that Christ has finished this work on the cross?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017

 
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Posted by on August 30, 2017 in Legalism, Sonship, Spiritual Walk

 

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