Acceptance Isn’t Enough
Good News Translation
6 My friends, if someone is caught in any kind of wrongdoing, those of you who are spiritual should set him right; but you must do it in a gentle way. And keep an eye on yourselves, so that you will not be tempted, too. 2 Help carry one another's burdens, and in this way you will obey the law of Christ.
3 If you think you are something when you really are nothing, you are only deceiving yourself. 4 You should each judge your own conduct. If it is good, then you can be proud of what you yourself have done, without having to compare it with what someone else has done. 5 For each of you have to carry your own load.
6 If you are being taught the Christian message, you should share all the good things you have with your teacher.
7 Do not deceive yourselves; no one makes a fool of God. You will reap exactly what you plant. 8 If you plant in the field of your natural desires, from it you will gather the harvest of death; if you plant in the field of the Spirit, from the Spirit you will gather the harvest of eternal life. 9 So let us not become tired of doing good; for if we do not give up, the time will come when we will reap the harvest. 10 So then, as often as we have the chance, we should do good to everyone, and especially to those who belong to our family in the faith.
11 See what big letters I make as I write to you now with my own hand! 12 The people who are trying to force you to be circumcised are the ones who want to show off and boast about external matters. They do it, however, only so that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13 Even those who practice circumcision do not obey the Law; they want you to be circumcised so that they can boast that you submitted to this physical ceremony. 14 As for me, however, I will boast only about the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ; for by means of his cross the world is dead to me, and I am dead to the world. 15 It does not matter at all whether or not one is circumcised; what does matter is being a new creature. 16 As for those who follow this rule in their lives, may peace and mercy be with them—with them and with all of God's people!
Tomorrow is the 4th of July, Independence Day. On this holiday we celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence. We have parties, BBQs, fireworks, gather with friends/family, or just enjoy a day off.
Our forebears sought freedom from British rule, taxation, and tyranny. They sought independence from the oversight of another nation in order to govern themselves – to make their own laws, declare their own rights, make their own choices, and worship how they so choose as one community, one people, and one nation under God.
Our area is rich in the history of our nation’s beginnings. Trenton was the site of Washington’s crossing of the Delaware. Jockey Hollow in Morristown. Centuries-old churches and cemeteries, some with graves of Revolutionary War soldiers. Historical markers and monuments throughout the area. Not to mention our nearness to Boston and Philadelphia, two of the key cities in the battle for independence. All of these are reminders of the freedom from tyranny and the laws of others that was declared and fought for so that people living in this land across the ocean from England could go forward into a new way of life.
Paul invites the Galatians to join him in a new way of life, one of freedom and independence from the law and its expectations as they understood it. This is the message of the letter which Paul states in chapter 2, verse 19: “For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God.” He says that focusing on the Law (the stone tablets given to Moses by God on Mt. Sinai), and the additional rules recorded in Leviticus alone holds them back from living as God intended. Life lived according to “Thou shalt not…” leads to a legalism that squashes freedom of religion, reducing faith to rules and regulations instead of grace, mercy, and love that takes away the hope and future God planed for God’s people.
Just like independence from British rule gave Americans a hope and a future; the freedom to be a new nation, governed in a new way, under a new kind of law.
Paul promises the same – freedom governed in a new way, under a new law, the law of Jeremiah 31:33ff: “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” Not a law that was written in stone that can be looked up in a vast library. A law that is now inside every person, written on their hearts. Call it the law of love, the law of God’s love. The law that the Holy Spirit reminds us of and continues to teach about. The Spirit recalls to us the words engraved on our hearts by God.
By this law, we are given freedom from legalism, the temptation to look at faith as black and white. Freedom generated from God through the Holy Spirit inside of us and through the love of Christ. By this law we become who we truly are, who God created us to be.
The “Fruit of the Spirit” – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23) – is evidence of that law written on our hearts. Not that these characteristics are demonstrated fully in our lives, but they emerge and grow as our faith matures. These are evidence of the freedom only God provides.
The law inside us not only releases us from being chained to a book of rules and regulations to govern our life under God, but it also releases us from the unrealistic expectations of others and ourselves to live this life as close to perfection as possible. We have an independence granted by God through Jesus Christ. We have a king who rules with justice and love, and who is trustworthy and faithful. That freedom from expectations is not easy to accept.
You may know the story of Naamen from 2 Kings. He was a great commander and mighty warrior respected by his king. He suffered from a skin condition (often described as leprosy). His wife heard from a young girl from Israel who was serving in their household. She told of a great prophet of God who was capable of anything – swinging like spiderman, leaping tall buildings in a single bound, and restoring/fixing whatever was wrong.
Now all good kings can get whatever they want done, done. So, he sent a letter to the king of Israel with Naaman saying, “here is my faithful servant. Cure him!”
The king sent Naaman to the Elisha, the great prophet the girl spoke of. Elisha didn’t even open the door! He sent a messenger out with instructions on how Naaman could be freed from the disease. Naaman’s expectation, due to his importance and his king’s request, was that Elisha would come out, wave a magic wand, say spiritual words, and the disease would disappear. Instead, Elisha’s instructions were to go wash in the Jordan River 7 times.
You’ve got to be kidding! That’s it? There are plenty of great rivers in my homeland. Why travel all the way to Israel if that were all the prophet would tell him to do? Take 2 aspirin and call me in the morning.
Naaman’s story is about expectations, but even more. He wanted to be special and to boast about his importance. “I deserve to be healed by the great prophet!” God doesn’t work that way. God has his own rules, own expectations, and own way for people to live.
God’s way is one of mutual responsibility. Not one but all. We are in this together. We are to share responsibility for one another’s lives.
God’s way is one of interdependence. A life characterized by mutual support, a willingness to confront when needed (tough love), and accountability. Mutual support and mutual accountability are two sides of the same coin. You can’t have one without the other. When one person experiences the mutuality of community, then everyone does. When one is loved by others, al are loved by one another. True interdependence provides true independence. Freedom to be yourself, freedom from peer pressure or image consciousness that encourages comparison to others along with worry about meeting expectations becomes the norm.
Following the law of Christ, the law written on our hearts, opens doors to hope and to a future, creating a community where we can trust others, experience grace given, and grace received. To see another way of life, a life lived in the Spirit.
Naaman came to his senses (with the help of his servants). They tell him that he would have done something difficult as he expected to do. So why not try the simple way? What have you got to lose?
He lost nothing but gained everything! Naaman’s skin was healed. In the process, he experienced independence from the law, from the rules of expectation. Naaman learned what it was like to be interdependent; to experience the mutuality of being one of God’s own and a member of God’s people.
Thomas Jefferson wrote the original draft of the Declaration of Independence. There was always speculation about the cross-outs and smudges that were written over. Of particular interest was one word that was more aggressively wiped out than the others.
With the advent of modern technology – high resolution cameras and digital imaging, among others – allowed researchers to take photos of each layer of the document’s paper. These new pictures revealed fingerprints and erased text.
On the third page of the four-page original draft, the page that listed the grievances against King George, a word was discovered that never made it into the final draft. Researchers discovered that the word “subjects” was erased by Jefferson while the ink was still wet. This word was replaced by the word “citizens.”
This change is thought to represent a decisive moment for Jefferson. He realized that what Americans were going to stake their lives on was different than what they had experienced in the past. The new nation would need to be formed as one of mutuality, of community, and of a people together. They would be citizens together of the new nation, not subjects of one leader.
One nation under God, not a human king. A people who would be both independent and interdependent.
The people God desires for us to be.