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Freedom: Paul’s Magna Carta

Freedom: Paul’s Magna Carta May 20, 2015

A_Fellowship_of_DifferentsFrom A Fellowship of Differents.

In the first letter Paul wrote that survives in the Bible, Galatians, Paul went toe-to-toe with a group he calls the “circumcision party,” which ought to be self-explanatory (#ouch). The circumcision party claimed connec- tion to the Lord’s brother, James, and to the Jerusalem church, and they no doubt represented the pro-Torah group of Christians (#intimidating). After attempting to demolish the circumcision party’s arguments for four chapters, Paul finally lands on his feet with something altogether practical for how to live. Here’s the great line:

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. (Galatians 5:1)

Only four words in the original Greek, but this single line about free- dom is the most radical statement Paul ever made. I will lay down free coffee that there were four responses:

Strong Pro-Torah group: “Heretic! Dangerous! Toss da bum!”

Sensitive Pro-Torah group: “Free? From what? Clarify please! Paul’s always saying crazy, over-the-top stuff. He needs to be more balanced. James is now our official apostle.”

Sensitive No-Torah group: “Free? What about our Jewish believer friends? Should we get them a ham sandwich? Paul certainly has his moments.”

Strong No-Torah group: “Paul, youdaman! Get me a beer and some BBQ pork!”

The fact is that Paul uttered that great claim of freedom because he meant it. Yes, a life of freedom means exploring new ideas and new ways of living, which requires discernment. Discernment about how freedom means fellowship, godliness, holiness, love, justice, wisdom, and peace, and how it does not mean indulgence, greed, vindictiveness, and narcissism. But it still remains freedom, and for many in the churches this kind of freedom was brand new. And it is as opposed today as it was in Paul’s day.

When my daughter was fresh into high school, I was working on a commentary on Galatians, and I was totally tanked up on Paul’s teach- ing about freedom and life in the Spirit (the two belong together). When Laura was going out the back door on a Friday evening, she turned and asked Kris and me, “What time should I be home?” I said immediately, “When the Spirit leads you to come home. You are free.” Kris looked at me and then at the confused face on Laura, and then said clearly, “Eleven o’clock.” (As a parent of a teenage girl, I agreed with Kris that freedom and life in the Spirit meant 11:00 p.m.!) After Laura closed the door, Kris turned to me and said, “Why in the world did you say that?” Precisely, I thought, as I turned to the apostle Paul and asked the same baffling question.

Okay, she was too young in her faith to discern what time to come home, but the ideal Christian life is not a life of “rules and regulations,” but rather a life of irresistible, Spirit-shaped, new creation freedom to do all God calls us to be. This new kind of freedom has two sides, just like salvation’s Egypt and the Promised Land: freedom involves a freedom from and a freedom for.

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