A person can follow all the rules, do all the right things, say all the right things, and go through all the right motions, and yet NOT be free in their heart. A person can live in the right neighborhood, have a good job, drive the right kind of car, have the right friends, and yet, NOT be free in their heart.
As Jesus followers we are called, named, identified as the church. As such we were given, by Jesus, a model to live by; a way to be community. We were given a promise, first by God and then, fulfilled by Jesus, that we would become the family of God. That we would find our true freedom in Christ.
Here’s the thing though - from the early church, some followers came to believe it was all about rules, regulations, and certain ways or practices. They loved God and followed Jesus with as much passion and conviction as anyone else but they clung to the rituals more than the cross. This caused problems in the church. This still causes problems in the church today.
Paul is going after the pious followers of Jesus who measure their salvation and freedom in Christ by whether or not they, or anyone else who claims to be a follower, are adhering to the strict Jewish code of circumcision. This was considered to be the mark of the true people of Israel, the true people of God.
Paul sends this letter as a reminder that Jesus fulfilled the code of law or the code of God; Jesus completed the promise of God given to their ancestors Abraham and Sarah, and passed on through people like Moses, David, Joshua, Esther, Ruth, and all the way to Mary and Joseph.
Freedom was now found in Christ and Christ alone. Jesus set us free from the bondage of sin and from being held captive to destructive, hurtful behavior toward ourselves and one another. Jesus came to make us free from those things that imprison our ability and shackle our potential as people of God. Jesus came to free the marginalized and invisible in society from oppression, We are to live by God’s way given to us through Jesus and by the Holy Spirit, and not by our human nature.
When we live out of a place of human nature / human desire, we seek things like power, control, authority, division, and …. That was not the promise given, nor the promise we are to keep. That is not who we are designed to be. That is not our original goodness created by God.
When we live out of place of the Holy Spirit, we seek things like shared authority, equality, compassion, empathy, unity, and we find ways to build true communities across social, cultural, racial, sexual, and political lines.
How do we do it? How do we live the kind of life Paul is talking about and Jesus died for? How do we keep the promise and be the people of God? Paul makes it quite clear (as did Jesus before him in response to the Pharisees' question of the greatest commandment): Love the Lord your God with all your heart, strength, soul and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. It doesn’t get much simpler than that church.
There are a lot of promises being spouted out right now in our country; from all sides and angles of the political arena. There are a lot of promises being made regarding what is and what is not the truth of Covid19. There are a lot of promises being put out there for us to decide what is and what is not true; what is and what is not who we are to be, and how we are to live.
There is only one promise ever given that remains as true today as it was when it was first spoken - “I will be your God and you will be my people.” It’s that second part that is the promise we must learn and strive to keep.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. Live that promise church, and you will live free, regardless of what is going on around you. Live that promise and you will live with purpose and intention regardless of what promises around you are being spoken, unspoken, broken or manipulated.
Pastor Jenothy Irvine