Freedom in Christ, Not Our Efforts

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
Galatians 5:1

Since I began volunteering in Christian ministry several years ago, God has graciously allowed me to walk alongside a lot of individuals as He brings hope and purpose to their lives, many of which are afflicted by some of the same trials I’ve gone through – alcoholism, addiction, divorce, sexual brokenness, “co-parenting,” attendant legal troubles, and so forth.

Throughout the years, I have come to understand that far more of my effort than I may have realized – though certainly not all – had been primarily self-focused and self-powered, a situation made “worse” by the fact that, by God’s grace, I actually have been gifted with the ability to speak biblical truth into specific, traumatic life situations. I can often get pretty far along under my own steam, and so will routinely do just that. In short, I think I was “ministering to my own glory” rather than to that of Christ.

Galatians 5:1

I am attempting to repent of this. Nowadays, I will most often stop to pray an Exodus 33:15 prayer prior to entering a meeting, asking God to be merciful to me and to the people I meet. Because so many of the people I interact with are typically in the throes of a deep crisis, I am often tempted to assume that God’s will is for “healing.” Well, maybe. But then again, maybe not.

We all know that nothing we do can ever make us right with God. While of course I “know” this to be true at the level of acceptable orthodoxy, I nevertheless feel deeply convicted by the idea that many (perhaps most) Christians fall into a trap of unconsciously thinking that, “After all, we are pretty good people! Why, Jesus, just look at my spiritual resume!” We frequently talk about the saving work of Jesus Christ as if His bringing us out of death and into life were simply “a boost” to help us get ourselves up where we need to be. The arrogance of a heart that knowingly or otherwise accepts the “boost” analogy is pretty monumental.

With the ministry and letters of Paul to reflect upon in more depth, it now seems clear that I have been entrusting far too little to Christ, and far too much to myself…even as I praise God for giving me very specific gifts and insights!

In Galatians 2:21, Paul writes: “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” (Emphasis mine.) In coming to terms with Paul’s battles against the Judaizers, the book of Galatians brings home to me the truth that “Jesus-plus-anything” is not the true Christian gospel.

While I might easily be tempted to mock the Galatians for their death-grip on ritualized circumcision and making a fuss over Mosaic dietary laws, I am often equally unwilling to let go my grasp of 1) intellect, 2) fluency with English, 3) position in the church, and 4) my futile attempts to be the Holy Spirit in the lives of others, just to name four of the top offenders. It must be all of Christ and none of me (or anything else).

Perhaps I am at least as stubborn as the Galatians to whom Paul was writing: “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.” (Galatians 3:1) Nowadays, I am quite confident that I will never entirely “solve” the puzzle surrounding God’s rich, merciful enabling and “the equipped Christian man’s legitimate response.” Somehow, Paul was able to lean on his own considerable God-given position and talents (Philippians 3:3-11) while still not putting his faith in them, so the paradox – for me, anyway – remains: What does it truly look like to surrender absolutely every God-given gift, ability and resource while retaining a prudent “control” of them in service to the authentic gospel of Christ?

I’ve thought about this a lot, and I am persuaded that I have not done quite so much “surrendering” as I ought. Galatians 3:3 has since become a memory verse: “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?”

One change I have recently found helpful is to “pad” most of my daily activities on the front end with at least five minutes of prayerful surrender of my time, talents and treasure to Christ to use in whatever way He sees fit, as well as to spend time confessing – out loud, if necessary – my own “desired” outcomes so that this has been stated in such a way as to foster transparency with God, repentance and a deeper awareness that 1) I am not God; 2) I do not see the entirety of anything – let alone the complexity of human relationships, and; 3) that I must fully surrender all outcomes to the Lord: Thy will be done, even should it cost me far more deeply than I might have imagined.

Jesus in Matthew 11:27-30:
“All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

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