The Christian life is supposed to be full of freedom and abundance, especially being full with the abundance of God’s love. Yet, so many of us fall into ruts and get caught up in a day to day existence that is full of stress, pressure, and hard work. When we first found Jesus, there was an experience of joy and new found freedom, especially the overwhelming blessing of being fully forgiven and accepted. We became new people in Christ, and there was a brand new start – it was a new life and new adventure had begun.
However, somewhere along the way, we started focusing on right behaviors, making sure to do the right things, and to stay away from the wrong activities. Maybe the focus was on reading the Bible every day, or on praying a certain time each day, or daily looking to reach out to those without Christ. Somehow we started to look at our behavior, and tried to make sure to do good things and bless other people. Before long there was a growing pressure in our life to do good things and to make positive contributions every day.
Where is the Joy?
Life started becoming difficult, full of stress and pressure, and you started feeling you were not good enough. It was like the only time you would feel good is when you did all those things that Christians are supposed to do. There were things that you learned along the way, to be involved in Christian activities, the Bible Studies, the Church services, and various fellowship groups.
When you did these things and were busy in the right activities, then you would have some relief from the nagging sense of obligation, and guilt. However, it became frustrating when after doing all this good stuff, that you would quickly come back to the place of disappointment and feeling as though if you could just be a better Christian that these negative feelings would go away. It was like there was some initial relief and freedom when you first became a Christian, yet it was like you traded one set of difficult worldly circumstances for a set of Christian obligations.
What happened? Where did this rut and life of obligations come from? Where is the joy, the freedom, and the sense of God’s blessing?
In the book of Galatians the Apostle Paul addresses this “rut,” this lifestyle of works and obligations, and brings some real answers, and hope.
Galatians 2:16 (Message) 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.
Paul hits this concept head on and clearly states that the Christian life is not about keeping the rules. We can’t make ourselves good enough; the answer comes only by trusting in and depending on Jesus Christ.
In these next two verses Paul continues to expose the wrong thinking – we cannot make ourselves perfect.
Galatians 2:17-18 (Message) 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.
It’s not about trying to do good things or rebuild the old life that you turned from when you asked Jesus into your heart and became a believer. Paul now lays out the truth for us, and helps us to see how our wrong thinking has trapped us in guilt and condemnation.
Galatians 2:19-21 (Message) 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.
The truth Paul presents is that life is not about following the rules, it is not about trying to walk in works or self-reformation – rather, it is about the new life we have in Christ. When we first began this relationship with Christ, we turned from the old life, and we started that new life with Him. This is where we started experiencing freedom and joy, and where we started to realize that God loves us, He really does. This is the unconditional love of our heavenly Father – we cannot earn it, we can only receive it – and when we do, we are set free.
In these next verses Paul speaks plainly and right to the point – that we are crazy to think we can find our own answers in life.
Galatians 3:1-3 (Message) You crazy Galatians! Did someone put a hex on you? Have you taken leave of your senses? Something crazy has happened, for it’s obvious that you no longer have the crucified Jesus in clear focus in your lives. His sacrifice on the cross was certainly set before you clearly enough.
Let me put this question to you: How did your new life begin? Was it by working your heads off to please God? Or was it by responding to God’s Message to you? Are you going to continue this craziness? For only crazy people would think they could complete by their own efforts what was begun by God. If you weren’t smart enough or strong enough to begin it, how do you suppose you could perfect it? Did you go through this whole painful learning process for nothing? It is not yet a total loss, but it certainly will be if you keep this up!
Jesus came to set us free from the rules, free from our self-efforts, and free to simply depend on Him and receive new life and freedom.
This is not about following the rules; this is about walking with Jesus and experiencing all the freedom He brings into our lives. Jesus came to seek and save the lost, He came to set the captives free and release people from the bondage of sin.
There is freedom in Jesus; there is new life and joy beyond our wildest dreams. He brings new life and takes care of us. He has called us to relationship, to be with Him – He said, “follow Me”, He did not say “follow the rules.”