“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Gal. 5.1
I just finished grading a batch of papers in which students were asked to describe and reflect on the essential traits of the Christian moral life. This is always an interesting exercise because it comes near the beginning of the course and serves as more of a bellwether for where students are coming in than what they may be taking away from the course. I have taught this particular course a number of times and what I have found over the years is that nearly all the students (most of whom are training for some form of ministry) build their reflection around the Ten Commandments. Rare is the student who begins with the Sermon on the Mount or the new commandment Jesus gives in John 13. No, they almost always begin and end with Moses in describing the essential traits of the Christian moral life.
I have seen this so much I am left with only one conclusion: this sort of thinking is prevalent in the church (at least the American church) today. We see Christians fight to place the Ten Commandments in various public places, but when has anyone fought to put the Beatitudes in those same places? Don’t get me wrong, Moses has his place, the OT has value for us, but Moses’ place is behind Jesus, the value of the OT is that it points to and testifies of Christ. To the extent that we let any other voices – even those within Scripture – take predominance over Jesus and his teachings, we have done just what Paul warned us against here.
I heard a pastor recently explain why the Law was a great safeguard, how it protects us, how those who claim to rely on the Holy Spirit are misguided, but I think this has it exactly backward. Jesus gave us a new commandment and the Holy Spirit precisely because the Law was insufficient either to save us or to make us into Jesus’ disciples. Can the Spirit use the OT? Certainly. Look back through my blog and you will see more than half of these meditations are taken from the OT which is as God-breathed as the NT. But the danger of returning to slavery is an ever present one, especially for those who place all Scripture on equal footing and spend more time trying to build safeguards out of the Law and not enough time learning to live the radical life of a disciple. We were set free to live in freedom and set others free. Don’t turn around and go back to Egypt. The Lord doesn’t have anything for us there.
On a day set aside to celebrate political freedom, I hope you will take time to reflect on the spiritual freedom you have been afforded and whether you are enjoying that spiritual freedom as fully as you might, or if a return to slavery has crept back in upon you. In the passage that follows this verse, Paul reiterates Jesus’ new commandment and encourages us to walk by the Spirit. I echo that encouragement. Walk in the Spirit, then you won’t need to worry about the safeguards. Bear the fruit of the Spirit in your words and actions and enjoy the freedom Jesus has won for you.