This morning my pastor called me by name (and tattoos) from the pulpit.
Which would’ve been horrifying if he weren’t making an awesome point.
Galatians 5:1-6 says:
“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.”
Here’s the thing about the law. It’s condemning. It points to our short-comings and our sinfulness. It serves a purpose, a holy purpose, but it is by no means the end-all, be-all of Christianity or Jesus or the Bible. The distinction between the law and grace is a tricky one, one that Christians have been working out since the very beginning. Paul’s words are just as relevant to us today and they were to the first Jesus-followers back then.
It’s a law versus grace thing. A slavery to requirements versus a freedom in Christ thing. It’s (seemingly) easy and neat to ask for a checklist, a list of requirements and laws and rules that you need to follow, and then to check off the boxes and feel good about yourself. It’s certainly easy to look down that list of requirements and check off boxes for other people, holding them up to a standard you yourself fall short of (for nobody can live up to any law completely). The thing about the law is that it condemns. It points out our shortcomings and our mess-ups. It is really good at telling us what we are doing (or have done) wrong.
The thing about grace is that it looks at everything you’ve done (or are doing) wrong and says, “I don’t care about that. I love you anyway.” The thing about freedom is that it isn’t about a list of things to do, but it’s about a person to become – your very best self, the person you were created to be.
The thing about freedom in Christ is not that you get to do whatever you want and still get into heaven. The thing about freedom in Christ is that it becomes about relationship and a deep, deep love that compels us toward anything that can get me closer to this God who saves.
Then, when you are living in communion with that God who saves, living in tune to the Holy Spirit, He will let you know what to do in the many situations where the law falls short. Like when your sister comes out a lesbian and you’re not sure how to react. Or when your son starts using drugs and your Sunday school friends tell you to kick him out. Or when your best friend starts running her mouth a crap load about people that you care about. Or when someone on the street asks you for money. Or when you really want a tattoo.
Situations like these (and so many more) are not addressed in the law. There is no requirement or check list. There is no chapter and verse reference for a lot of the choices we make these days. Which is why it’s a darn good thing we haven’t been called to follow a law, but rather a person. A person who lived, died, and conquered death so that He could guide us through this garbage.
“’Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.’” – Matthew 22:36-40
The entire law can basically be summed up in four words: Love God, Love People.
So then living as a Christian, living a life for Christ, becomes about relationship and not rules.
Laws do not breed love. They breed judgment and division. The law looks on the outside and tells you how you don’t measure up. The law entices us to look at our neighbor and decide how they don’t measure up either. But grace, grace looks past clothes and tattoos and preferences. Grace looks to the heart.
Galatians 5:1 says, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”
Did you get that? For freedom Christ has set us free. Not for rules or standards or judgment. For freedom from all of that junk. We are free from the law. Not because what we do doesn’t matter, but because who we are matters more.
For freedom Christ has set us free. Free from hopeless condemnation. Free from divisiveness and judgement and falling short time and time again. Free to love God. Free to love people. Free to love ourselves. Free to love like fools.
The point the pastor was making this morning was this: It doesn’t matter what you think about someone’s tattoos or the fact that this woman or that woman is wearing pants to church. It doesn’t matter what you think about this person’s music taste or the movies that they watch. The law isn’t the point. What matters is grace. Jesus is the point – Jesus and His grace. Grace sufficient for all my sins. Grace sufficient for all.
For freedom Christ has set us free… through love serve one another. – Galatians 5:1, 13