Galatians – Christ-like Fruit-Bearing
When men and women get their hands on religion, one of the first things they often do is turn it into an instrument for controlling others, ether putting or keeping them “in their place.” The history of such religious manipulation and coercion is long and tedious. It is little wonder that people who have only know religion on such terms experience release or escape from it as freedom. The problem is that the freedom turns out to be short-lived.
Paul of Tarsus was doing his diligent best to add yet another chapter to this dreary history when he was saved by Jesus to something radically and entirely different–a free life in God.
Through Jesus, Paul learned that God was not an impersonal force to be used to make people behave in certain prescribed ways, but a personal Savior who set us free to live a free life. God did not coerce us from without, but set us free from within.
It was a glorious experience, and Paul set off telling other, introducing and inviting everyone he met into this free life. In his early travels he founded a series of churches in the Roman province of Galatia A few years later, Paul learned that religious leaders of the old school had come into those churches, called his views and authority into question, and were reintroducing the old ways, herding all these freedom-loving Christians back into the corral of religious rules and regulations.
Paul was, of course, furious. He was furious with the old guard for coming in with their strong-arm religious tactics and intimidating the Christians into giving up their free life in Jesus. But he was also furious with the Christians for caving in to the intimidation.
His letter to the Galatian churches helps them, and us, recover the original freedom. It also gives direction in the nature of God’s gift of freedom–most necessary guidance, for freedom is a delicate and subtle gift, easily perverted and often squandered.
Is rule-keeping more important to us than relationship building?
Does it depend on the rule and where the rule came from and was based upon?
What rules do our churches have today that are not particularly given by God but made by man? Why are they important and are they important to God?
What is the focus of our belief? Rules and regulations of the church or a deep intimate growing relationship with Jesus Christ?
What do we work on most in our lives? Are we trying to be good enough to pass the test of God’s judgement or the judgement of church people, OR working on our intimate relationship to Jesus, completely trusting in Him to give us what we need most? What is our central focus?
With these thoughts in mind, here are a few passages written to the church of Galatia by Paul the Apostle, saved by grace by Jesus Christ.
“We know very well that we are not set right with God by rule-keeping but only through personal faith in Jesus Christ. How do we know? We tried it—and we had the best system of rules the world has ever seen! Convinced that no human being can please God by self-improvement, we believed in Jesus as the Messiah so that we might be set right before God by trusting in the Messiah, not by trying to be good.”
Galatians 2:15-16, The Message
WE ARE NOT PERFECT, ONLY PERFECTLY FORGIVEN!
It is not up to us to be set right, only through our relationship with Jesus Christ are we perfected and made holy to God.
“17-18 Have some of you noticed that we are not yet perfect? (No great surprise, right?) And are you ready to make the accusation that since people like me, who go through Christ in order to get things right with God, aren’t perfectly virtuous, Christ must therefore be an accessory to sin? The accusation is frivolous. If I was “trying to be good,” I would be rebuilding the same old barn that I tore down. I would be acting as a charlatan.” Galatians 2:17-18, The Message
Years ago, I had a little girl in my Sunday School class come to me and ask, “How do I get to heaven? Do I just have to be good?” I gently guided her to Jesus who is the only perfect and good in us when we believe in Him as our Savior and follow in His ways as our Lord. This six year old “got it”.
A few months later she was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor in her leg which had to be amputated. She went through this whole traumatic experience knowing Jesus was with her because of the relationship that had begun in our classroom. Because of her witness, her mom also began an intimate relationship with Jesus. It was not the rules of the church but the relationship with Jesus that gave her strength and tenacity to get through a dire circumstance.
Paul, in personal testimony of his relationship with Jesus goes on to preach the difference between religion and relationship…
“What actually took place is this: I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn’t work. So I quit being a “law man” so that I could be GOD’S man.”
“Christ’s life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not “mine,” but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not going to go back on that.”
“Is it not clear to you that to go back to that old rule-keeping, peer-pleasing religion would be an abandonment of everything personal and free in my relationship with God? I refuse to do that, to repudiate God’s grace. If a living relationship with God could come by rule-keeping, then Christ died unnecessarily.” Galatians 2:19-21, The Message
In another instance with a teen who had just given His life to Jesus at an altar of prayer in a church camp setting, he got up to announce, “Now, I’m going to be good”. I immediately had another talk with him to explain that being good was not the point. I related that we will really never be “good enough”. It is only be God’s grace through Jesus that we are made “good” or holy. We cannot be “good” on our own. When we try to live like that we will daily be disappointed in ourselves. Live for Christ for Christ is in you now. Let Him love and lead you. Think before you speak and act. Put Him first in your thinking and behaving. And when you mess up, come right back to Him and let him help you make it right. Jesus must be central to your life, not “trying to be good”.
MY OWN REALIZATION
I realized that the more I thought about keeping all the rules of a certain diet to lose weight and be healthier, the more I thought about breaking or manipulating those rules so I could eat what I wanted. I also caught myself thinking about food more than ever before! My central thought was a powerful relationship with food! The less I thought about it, the healthier I became, God helping me.
What do you think about more than anything else right now?
What you think about most is who you become in the moment.
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!
Paul also taught that what happens in a growing relationship with Jesus Christ that is intimate, we begin to develop HIS characteristics in our lives. Because we think about who He is, talk to Him often in prayer, and read how He lived in His word to us, we begin to become more like the One we love the most and who loves us the best!
Who you admire and think about the most is who we tend to emulate and imitate! Think about Jesus–Be like Jesus!
Paul tells us the exact, Christ-like characteristics, “fruits” that will appear in our lives as we begin to grow in our relationship with Jesus…
“…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” Galatians 5:22-25, NIV
Who are we becoming, who are we imitating most right now?
What “fruits” of His Holy Spirit, that reflect the character of Christ, are you developing?
Dear Heavenly Father,
I want to become more and more like you, dear Jesus. Thank you for loving me so much you want to help me, be with me, and be my loving Friend. You care enough to guide and confront me, care and lead me out of troubles. I praise you and raise a hallelujah for your goodness to us all. Continue to change me, grow me and mold me to be more who you created me to be.
In Jesus Name, and By Your Power working in me, Amen.