Can you believe the first month of the year is already gone? What?! If time really does fly when you’re having fun, I must be having a LOT of fun!
As promised, here are musings from my first month of sitting with the word grace. If you’re just joining in and don’t have a clue what I’m talking about, you might want to read about One Word for One Year (and my word for 2018, grace) first!
January’s ideas are still bouncing around in my head and settling into my heart. I haven’t worked out all their implications, much less lived them out well at this point! So, don’t think I have it all together. I don’t. But it’s clear God wants to do a work in my heart in this area. Maybe He wants to do one in yours too.
I started into a couple of books on the topic of grace. They were insightful and helpful and got my mind racing a few times. But those ideas have nothing to do with what I’m writing here! The most powerful idea that gripped my heart in January started out as a simple whisper of a word,
I can’t really even tell you where it came from exactly. I didn’t set out looking for it. No book identified it precisely. But soon every podcast I listened to (about any topic!) and any book I picked up made my heart feel freer and my soul lighter. And every time would be that whisper again, Freedom.
I just sat with the word for a couple of weeks. Partly because I didn’t know what to start doing with it, and partly because I had a lot of other things going on! But even while I waited, its appeal and allurement were growing and swelling inside of me.
Early last week God reminded me that the book of Galatians talks about grace and freedom, so I read it. Multiple times. In multiple versions. I couldn’t get enough. I found Psalm 119:20 to be so true.
My soul is starved and hungry, ravenous! – insatiable for your nourishing commands. (MSG)
I needed truths about grace and freedom even more than I ever realized. I couldn’t have told you that at the beginning of the year. But that’s one of the benefits of choosing a word and sitting with it. You allow God the freedom to do in you what He knows is needed, even when you are not aware of exactly what that is!
In the Message, the words related to freedom (free, freely, etc) are used 25 times. FOURTEEN of those are in the first 18 verses of chapter 5! The Message is what I have referenced below. If you don’t have an accessible copy, you can follow the embedded links to read them online.
The overarching idea of Galatians is that
Grace Gives Freedom
- A condition of acting without compulsion
- Exemption from external control or regulation
- Absence or release from obligation
In other words, we should not be guided or directed by the external world of people, rules, behavior, expectations, etc. This is true not only in our relationship with people but also with God.
Here are a few examples of what that looks like from the book of Galatians.
- We are now free to enjoy intimate conversation with God. (4:4-7) We can freely talk to Him using simple words from our heart. We can come to Him in any emotional state and know He loves and accepts us.
- We are now free to enjoy a satisfying relationship with God. (5:4-6) This doesn’t come because we’ve earned it or because of anything we do or don’t do. It comes from our simple belief that God is who He says He is.
- We are free from striving for man’s, or God’s, approval. (2:19-21) It’s not important what man thinks. And God’s thoughts towards us don’t change based on our behavior. Again, belief in Christ is what both initiates and sustains our relationship with God.
- We are free to enjoy life (be delighted and exuberant about it). (5:22-23) I love this way of describing joy! (exuberance about life) It’s a fruit that God brings about. As we embrace Him and trust Him, this naturally become characteristic of our life.
- We are free from having to impress God or earn His favor. (3:5-6, 11-12) I’m struck at how many times and in how many ways this idea is repeated. Our natural tendency is to try to please God, follow Him, do things for Him, live the “Christian life”. But it’s impossible. Instead, He simply asks that we trust Him to do the work inside of us that is needed.
Any and all of those principles we would do well to think on and work into our lives and paradigms! But there was another that stood out to me. One that encapsulated everything that I had been hearing and reading when I started hearing the whisper of freedom.
The principle is that
Grace Gives Freedom to be Yourself
In chapter 4, Paul starts laying out this idea by comparing the following of the law and being directed by the external world, to slavery. In verse 3 he says,
…we were just like slaves ordered around by simple instructions … with no say in the conduct of our own lives
This is what happens when we try to earn God’s favor, impress others, or see our relationship with God as prescriptive. It becomes the taskmaster. We’re following rules. We’re not free to follow our hearts or the Spirit’s prompting.
Eugene Peterson (who wrote the Message) in his introduction to the book of Galatians says,
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 doesn’t desire cookie cutter Christians. This is evidenced elsewhere in Scripture – like in I Corinthians 12 where it talks about how we all have different spiritual gifts. God’s goal is not outward conformity but inner transformation. God has given us His Spirit who will lead us in different ways at different times.
By chapter 6, Paul wraps up his thoughts with very practical advice for what it looks like to live in the way that he has been describing. A life of freedom. Not a life enslaved to something or someone else. Here are verses 4-5.
Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.
My work is not your work (even if we happened to work at the same place!). My work is not achieved by my effort so there’s no place for boasting. I am responsible for the life that God has given me. I must take ownership of that, seek Him and follow as He leads me.
How freeing that is! It doesn’t matter what others think. It doesn’t matter if others understand. It doesn’t matter if others agree. It doesn’t matter if I appear foolish. And if I’m truly following Him, I can’t get it wrong! I can’t mess it all up. It doesn’t depend on me and what I do or don’t do. I don’t have to listen to all the voices giving advice, I can tune my ear to One and follow Him. No wonder exuberance for life comes as result of living this way!
There is one caveat to this principle. And it’s actually where Paul uses the words free and freedom the most. The first 18 verses of chapter 5.
Freedom Grows by Loving Others Well
I love the comparisons Paul uses when talking about this. (5:17)
Sinful self-interest is at odds with a free spirit
The free spirit is incompatible with selfishness
We weren’t given freedom to turn inwards and do whatever we want to be happy. (Because that wouldn’t actually make us happy.)
It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows. For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That’s an act of true freedom. (5:13-14)
Applying the other ideas in Galatians, the Spirit will show me how to do this. He will present me with opportunities to love and serve others. It won’t look the same for me as it does for you. It will look different for me during different seasons of my life. I’m not more or less spiritual based on the ways I serve others.
But no matter the specifics, my free life will result in serving and loving others, thus allowing my freedom to grow.
Implications for My Life
There were three questions I posed to myself as I began this journey into grace, which I outlined in my Say Yes to One Word for One Year original post. One of them was, “What are the implications of God’s grace in my life?”
I literally laughed out loud when not once, but TWICE, that exact phrase was used in the Message. The first time was in verse 1 of chapter 4 when Paul says,
Let me show you the implications of this.
Then proceeds to make the analogy to slavery that we already touched on above. It’s kind of hard to miss the answer to a question when it’s stated that plainly!!
The second time Paul uses this wording is at the end of chapter 5. Here are verses 25 & 26.
Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives. That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original.
So, here are the implications I see for me right now. I’m sure this will change – probably even during the rest of this year!
- I am free to parent my child as God leads me. There are probably some things we do that will be similar to others. And very likely some that will not. That’s ok. God knows my boy better than we do. He can lead us to do what is best for Him. It’s not a work that we’re responsible for manufacturing or figuring out. The Spirit will lead us to love him well and provide exactly what he needs.
- I am free to create a home environment that meets my family’s needs. There’s not one right way to be a loving and tight-knit family. My effort needs to be placed in observing hearts and needs and asking God how best to meet those. “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” (ESV)
- I am free to love and accept those who have different standards than me. So often I feel that acceptance gives approval, but it doesn’t necessarily. Acceptance means seeing who someone is and not trying to change them. It doesn’t matter if their standards are stricter or looser. It doesn’t mean they’re good and I’m bad, or vice versa. Each of us is an original. God leads different people to do different things. And that’s ok.
- I have the freedom to say yes or no based on how God is leading me. God gives me my priorities. He shows me what I need to be doing. I don’t have to answer based on obligation or for approval. Neither do I answer out of selfishness or self-interest. God’s Spirit motivates me.
- I can freely pursue the free life of God. I don’t need to entrap myself with good things. This has been a growing realization in my life over several years now, but I still find myself gravitating back to old patterns at times. I find my expectations are often higher than God’s! He remembers that I’m dust. He doesn’t want me busy doing things. He wants me in intimate conversation and relationship with Him. It’s how He intended life from the very beginning.
Finding Freedom in Grace
And that, my friends, is a marathon post. If you made it to the end, well done!
Where do you find yourself today? Where do you need to find freedom? Where is God asking you to step out and be different? Where is God asking you to trust and follow His Spirit – even if it doesn’t make rational sense? What are the practical implications for your life? What does God want you to sink your teeth into?
If you haven’t read Galatians all the way through in the Message, I’d encourage you to do that. Sometimes we just need to hear the same message in different words for it to strike a chord deep in our hearts.
Paul’s closing prayer for the Galatians seems fitting as my closing prayer for each of you,
May what our Master Jesus Christ gives freely be deeply and personally yours, my friends. Oh yes!