Monday, November 27, 2006

Galatians 6:1-10

Commentators on Paul’s letter to the Christian communities in Galatia have often characterized it as “the Magna Carta of Christian liberty.” Magna Carta, of course, struck a signal blow for freedom in 1215 A.D. against the tyrannous power of the monarchy in England. About 1200 years earlier, Paul championed freedom in Jesus against the burdening claims of adherence to Jewish ceremonial law.

Among those communities in Galatia, some contended that followers of Jesus, especially Gentile (non-Jewish) followers, had to comply with all the requirements of Jewish law in the Mosaic writings (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy). Jesus was vital for receiving God’s saving grace, but keeping the law was equally vital. In this perspective, Jesus plus the law led to salvation.

Paul vigorously countered this teaching. He denounced it as contrary to the good news of God’s saving love in Jesus. It was, in reality, not good but oppressive news. The true good news consists in the full sufficiency of Jesus’ death and resurrection to reconcile us to God and free us from sin. If we had to keep the law to be in God’s good grace, we would remain enslaved to sin and death because we cannot keep the law perfectly. Jesus freed us from that impossible burden by loving God fully for us, by keeping the law perfectly for us, and by bearing our sin and death for us. In Jesus alone is our true freedom!

Yet this is not freedom from all responsibility and right behavior. It is freedom for life in the fullness of God’s good will for us and our world. Some in the early church misused the freedom we have in Jesus to live without obligation and love for others. We in our modern context are especially disposed to this misuse of freedom. An erroneously individualistic and libertine notion of freedom pervades and perverts our culture and society.

We have only to read today’s passage in Galatians to understand that freedom in Jesus is not freedom to do whatever we like, without regard for others. Rather, freedom in Jesus enables, even compels, us to live lovingly and rightly for others. As we know from Jesus’ teaching and life, love for God does not exempt us from love for others. Love for God frees us to love others truly and happily. In word and deed then, let us freely sow love that we and all the world may harvest, both now and ever, that true and bounteous life which is God’s sublime gift in Jesus.

Gregory Strong

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