“Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage” (Galatians 5:1 NKJV).
Some of our Khulna Bible College faculty had accompanied me to the local Police Station to meet the Officer in Charge and invite him to visit our campus. The policemen greeted us and offered tea and refreshments, including some pieces of fresh fruit. I normally peel fruit and fresh vegetables there as a health precaution, so I took out my pocket knife to peel an apple. The senior policeman looked surprised and asked me, “What are you doing with that?”
I politely answered, “I am peeling this fruit, is there a problem?” He answered, “Not for you.” In other words a local Bengali would not be allowed to carry an ordinary pocketknife, but as a foreigner I was given a pass on that law.
Americans take many things for granted with regards to personal rights and liberties. Most citizens of other nations live much more regulated (that is, much less free) lives. Basic rights that are guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, such as freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom to bear arms, freedom to assemble, and many others simply do not exist for them.
Freedom and restrictions upon it is not limited to the political arena. Paul was a product of a legalistic religion – Judaism – which placed great restrictions upon its adherents. There are many other such religions which impose burdens on their members. All are marked by rigid standards and a hierarchy empowered to enforce them.
Most such religions eventually fall prey to hypocrisy and selective enforcement. Those in power insist upon obedience by the masses, but often fail to adhere to the standards themselves. This was Jesus’ primary complaint against the Jewish religious leaders of his day (Matthew 23:1-4).
Christianity stands in marked contrast. In Jesus we have liberty (Galatians 5:1). This does not mean that there is no law in Christ, as some have attempted to maintain. Rather it means that we are not ruled by legalistic statute in every small detail such as the traditions of the elders so beloved by the Pharisees but rejected by the Lord (Mark 7:5-13).
In contrast, Christians are guided by the rule of Spirit (Romans 8:1-11; Galatians 5:16-25). These passages do not teach a miraculous, visionary guidance. Rather they demand that believers in Jesus acquire his spirit (i.e., his nature and character – Romans 8:9-10) and that they live by the principle of Spirit rather than Flesh (Romans 8:5-8; Galatians 5:16-18).
What exactly does this mean? Among other things, it means that we put spiritual matters ahead of mere physical appetites and desires in our lives (Colossians 3:1-2). The great weakness of legalism (the imposition of many detailed rules of living) is that it forces one to focus upon material things. Every attention and concern is given to defining correct physical behavior. This of necessity keeps us in the realm of materialistic thinking, the very opposite of that which we are commanded to do.
If instead we are focused on spiritual concerns – how to be more like Jesus, how to please him, how to do his will and go to heaven – our physical desires and temptations fade into the background. They simply become less important. We spend less time thinking about them, therefore less time being aware of them.
Most of us have had the experience of being “so busy we forgot to eat.” Our bodies may have been hungry, but we simply did not notice because we were focused on other things which were more important, at least at the moment. That is exactly the principle which the Holy Spirit is teaching us. The way to live righteously is not by multiplying regulations, but by focusing upon those things most important to God so much that we find that sin and temptation have lost their interest to us.
God has given us laws in Christ (Matthew 7:21). We must obey them. But we are free from the tyranny of petty detail such as was imposed by first century Judaism (Colossians 2:20-23). Let us rejoice in that freedom.