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Freedom and the Flesh

We’ve been given perfect freedom in Christ.  But just how far does that freedom allow us to go?  There are many who preach the Law so that Christians won’t live for themselves.  What’s the Biblical view?

You, my brothers, were called to be free.  But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.
Galatians 5:13

In order to understand our freedom, we need to see the greater context of Scripture.  There’s a flow to how the Holy Spirit revealed the Word to the church.  Knowing this will give us added insight.

The first mention of our liberty in Christ was when the Holy Spirit revealed it to James.  In his book, he simply referred to the Word of God as the perfect law that gives liberty (James 1:25).  But it’s in the letter to the Galatians that we see the first explanation of that freedom.

Actually, in this verse, we see the first revelation of how freedom and the flesh relate together.  So this gives us the foundational truth we need to understand.

The first thing I see is that we are called to be free.  That’s important.  Our freedom in Christ is a positional freedom.  That means I have to respond to it if I want to see the manifestation in my life.

If I want to walk in freedom, I need to cultivate my relationship with the Holy Spirit.  He’s the One that will turn my position of freedom into something I can experience on a daily basis.

Now we can go to Paul’s next statement.  He says that we must not use our freedom to indulge the sinful nature.  When I read this verse in the Greek language, I see an important truth.  Paul says; don’t start off in your liberty with the flesh as your goal.

Motivation is everything.  What’s your first thought when you hear the word, freedom.  Do you think, “Great! I can do whatever I want, whenever I want, and God won’t care!”?  If that’s your thinking, then you’re too immature to walk in God’s freedom.

The point of this liberty is that I’m free to serve God while He’s cleaning me up.  I don’t have to wait until I’m perfect.  I can listen for His call and obey Him.  As I’m serving the Lord, if I make a mistake I can repent and move on.

Freedom is knowing that I please God just as I am, right now.  As I grow and mature in Christ, I’ll continue to please God.  It’s not based on my performance, but on His work in me.

That brings me to Paul’s third point.  When I’m walking in freedom, I can serve God by serving others.  I’m not worried about how God sees me.  I can do what I’m called to do without any hindrance.

Because I know that I’m loved by God, I’m free to love others.  I don’t have to worry about whether they’ll accept me or not.  I’m already acceptable to the Lord.  That’s true liberty.

Trying to follow the law is just the opposite.

The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
Galatians 5:14-15

When I’m performing for acceptance from God, everything becomes a competition.  I have to prove that I’m better than you.  That means I have to pick on your faults and emphasize my strengths.  A group of people with those attitudes will never do anything great for God.

Choose freedom.  Cultivate your walk with the Spirit and let Him do His work in you.  And always remember that God loves who you are right now.

Question: How has God’s love changed your view of yourself?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017

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Posted by on September 27, 2017 in Faith, Legalism, Ministry, Spiritual Walk

 

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Freedom in the Cross

Have you ever had your words twisted by someone?  They accuse you of saying something that you never meant to say.  It’s not a new thing.  The Apostle Paul had to deal with it as well.

In the early church there were a group of people preaching that to be a good Christian, you needed to obey the Law of Moses.  In order to give themselves some credibility, they said that Paul was preaching the same message.

Look at what the Apostle has to say about them.

Brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted?  In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished.  As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!
Galatians 5:11-12

The fact is that Paul was being persecuted for preaching about our freedom in Christ.  The Judaizers followed him from city to city, stirring up riots and dissension.  That in itself should have proven that his message was different than theirs.

He says that if he was preaching the Law, then the offense or scandal of the cross would have been rendered null or idle.  What does he mean by that?

In simple terms, it’s the cross that gives us our freedom.  It may not sound like that on the surface.  I’m convinced that we’ve missed the full impact of the cross.  We’re taught misconceptions and partial truths.

I’ve heard those who try to make it so hard to serve Christ.  They explain how Jesus said that in order to follow Him, we need to carry our cross (Luke 9:23-24, 14:27).  What they fail to mention is that He said this before He went to the cross.

So we were to pick up our cross, follow Christ to His cross, then to the grave, and then to the resurrection.  We are to identify with Him from death to life.  The cross was simply the doorway to the resurrection!

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ.  He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.
Colossians 2:13-14

I don’t know what this sounds like to you; but it sounds like life, victory, and freedom in Christ to me.  The Law does not reign over me.  I need to submit to the Holy Spirit, not a written code of behavior.

That’s the offense of the cross.  It offends the self-righteous to be told, “No matter what you do, you’re not good enough.”  They like to think that their “holy” lifestyle is winning God’s approval.

The Apostle Paul has very little tolerance for these people.  I believe that the NKJV does a better job of translating Galatians 5:12 than the NIV.

I could wish that those who trouble you would even cut themselves off!
Galatians 5:12 (NKJV)

This is kind of a play on words in the Greek.  The word, trouble, literally means to force out or remove from home.  So Paul is saying that he wished the ones who were removing you from your place of rest in Christ would actually remove themselves.

Knowing the full message of the cross brings freedom in knowing who we are in Christ.  You can’t cling to both the cross and the Law.  They’re mutually exclusive.  As for me, I choose the freedom of the cross of Christ!

Question: How have you found freedom in the message of the cross?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017

 
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Posted by on September 25, 2017 in Legalism, Spiritual Walk, The Gospel

 

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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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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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In Christ is Perfect Freedom

I’ve been posting about Paul’s letter to the Galatians.  In it, he outlines what Christ did to overcome the effects of the Law.  We’ve been set free in Christ.

For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God.
Galatians 2:19

The result of trying to serve the Law is always death.  There’s no way that anyone can live up to all it contains.  Paul understood that no matter how hard we try, we always end up at the same place.  The Law places us in an endless cycle of guilt, fear, and frustration.

That’s why the Lord wants to get rid of your entire past. The “old you” is removed and nailed to the cross with Christ. It’s never to be heard from again. But it doesn’t end there.

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Galatians 2:20

Christ doesn’t only deal with our past. The work He did on the cross affects our present and future as well. This is because the cross means nothing without the resurrection. The two must go hand in hand.

It’s great that Jesus got rid of my past sins and the guilt and shame that came with it. But I’m living in the present. I’m concerned about the future. How does what He’s done speak to this?

The power that was released when Christ rose from the dead is available to me today. I now have the power of God present in me. I have a source of strength that will get me through today victoriously. It will carry me through until I reach my destiny in Christ Jesus. That’s the power of the death and resurrection of Christ.

It’s just like when we’re doing something on our computers. You can create a lot of great stuff. But until you click on the save button, everything can be lost. Christ did a powerful work on the cross. But it was when He rose up from the dead that He hit the save button.

The Lord’s death and resurrection opened up the saving work of God for all time and to all people. This is what the church should be proclaiming. Repentance and forgiveness are now available through Jesus Christ.

That’s why I’ve bowed my knee to Jesus as my Lord and Savior. No other god has ever done this for his people. All the other religions tell their followers that if they want acceptance, enlightenment, or paradise, then they need to work harder. Sweat for it, bleed for it, suffer for it. Only when you’ve put enough effort into your seeking, will you attain the prize.

My God understood my problem. As a human being, I’m incapable of living the perfect life He requires. I had no ability to approach God on my own merit.

I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!
Galatians 2:21

If there was a rule book or a set of laws that we could follow correctly, then we wouldn’t need Jesus. Because of the grace of God and the work of the cross it’s no longer about my ability. It’s now all about God’s work in me.

Question: How does Christ’s work continue to change your life?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017

 
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Posted by on August 7, 2017 in Faith, Legalism, Spiritual Walk, The Church

 

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